Olympian Abbott bringing experience to the Valley

Olympic silver medalist Monica Abbott is bringing a camp to the Rio Grande Valley with the goal of teaching youth softball players the fundamentals of the game.

The camp, which is being hosted by the Cavazos Sports Institute, begins today. Advanced sessions on Saturday are for athletes age 13 and older, with youth sessions on Sunday for players ages 8-12.

“The CSI contacted me to do the event,” Abbott said. “Because I knew they were in Texas, I play for the Scrap Yard Dawgs in Houston, so I was really like, ‘I have to get this done.’ It’s a Texas community here. I wanted to make sure that I made it happen. Just trying to give back to the sport and spread the high level of knowledge that I have. There are not a lot of women in softball that continue to play after college. There are very few who play past the age of 25. I want to give these girls a chance to help them dream bigger.”

Abbott began her career at North Salinas High School in California.

“We weren’t necessarily a powerhouse in softball, but we always had a good program,” Abbott, who won 26 awards during her high school career, said. “I had a great high school coach in Keith Burg. He came to coach me in high school after I played with him in travel ball.”

After graduating in 2003, Abbott attended the University of Tennessee, where she became a dominant left-handed pitcher and won multiple player of the year awards throughout her college career.

“Any girl when you leave home, it’s this great big adventure and it’s exciting, but man is it different from home life,” Abbott said. “It took a little bit of an adjustment, but I am very blessed to have picked Tennessee and to find a home there and create a family.”

In 2008, Abbott was selected to the United States’ Olympic team. In her first appearance for the U.S., Abbott pitched 5 perfect innings in an 8-0 win over the Netherlands.

“Any time you can wear USA across your chest, it adds that much more importance and value to your career,” Abbott said. “It makes everything that much more important. You are not only representing yourself and your family, but you are representing your community, and you are representing your hometown, and you are representing every girl that plays softball. Having that honor was absolutely incredible.”

The U.S. team won the silver medal after dropping the championship game to Japan. Abbott came on in relief during the championship game and finished the tournament on the mound for the U.S. She also won gold for the U.S. in 2006 and 2010 at the ISF Women’s World Championships, and in 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2010 in the World Cup of Softball. Abbott also won gold in 2007 at the Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro.

After the Olympics, Abbott began playing pro ball for the National Pro Fastpitch league. She played for the Chicago Bandits from 2011-15. In May 2016, the Scrap Yard Dawgs, based in Houston, offered Abbott a six-year contract worth an estimated $1 million. Abbott’s contract is believed to be the highest ever paid by an American professional franchise to an active female athlete in any team sport.

“When the Dawgs approached me to play for them, I was kind of in shock,” Abbott said. “They offered me a lot of money, and I was thinking there is no way this is true. Which is sad, because I thought that as a female athlete there was no way they could offer that. But then it dawned on me that I have been playing at such a high level for so long, that finally, praise the Lord, the Dawgs came through and saw value not only in me as a player, but also the things I do off the field.”

While the contract was an exciting moment for Abbott, the potential of what it represents for female athletes across the world is what Abbott cherishes most about the opportunity.

“There are always going to be moments where you have doubts and you have to push through,” Abbott said. “Creating more opportunities for female athletes is a huge part of who I am as an athlete and part of my career. It’s important to create an excitement around the game for everyone to watch, whether you are male or female. I want people to be excited to watch softball.”

Abbott is not new to teaching the game, and she has a fun weekend planned for Valley athletes.

“First off, we always want to enjoy the game and be competitive,” Abbott said. “We are going to work on our skills, the little things that make a big difference in the game, and how to compete in every moment to be the best athlete you can be.”