Like most events or plans for 2020, the growing numbers of COVID-19 cases caused National Pro Fastpitch (NPF) to cancel all competition for what would’ve been its 17th season.
With no league running and players looking for competition to stay prepared for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, in came a new league, a league that would be all about the players, Athletes Unlimited.
Athletes Unlimited is like no other league before. It is a fastpitch league in which the top players get to coach and athletes and teams earn points. Teams are reshuffled every week with the top players from the previous week picking the new teams.
The players vote for the top three players after each game (60 points, 40 points and 20 points) plus players earn points instead of stats. A single is 10 points, a double is 20, a triple is 30, a home run is 40, a stolen base is 10 points and a walk is 10 points. If a player gets caught stealing that player loses 10 points.
Pitchers earn four points for each out but they lose 10 points for every earned run.
Games will be at the Parkway Bank Sports Complex in Rosemont, Ill., starting on Aug.30. ESPN3 will air the games.
The league also has an Arizona softball influence with four former Wildcats on the roster, looking to make their mark with Athletes Unlimited. They are Danielle O’Toole, Mandie Perez, Taylor McQuillin and Katiyana Mauga.
Sabino grad Kelsey Jenkins, a three-time First Team All-Big Ten selection for Wisconsin, is also in Athletes Unlimited. She has been a member on various levels of Team Canada from 2015, helping the program earn a berth to the 2020 Olympics. She was an all-star in Softball and Soccer at Sabino.
O’Toole, a two-time first-team All-Pac-12 and 2017 Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year, spoke to AllSportsTucson.com about Athletes Unlimited and what it’s like to be a part of something that has never been done before.
Here’s Q & A with O’Toole about the new league, and what it means for the 2021 Tokyo summer Olympics:
Q: How did (Athletes Unlimited) the league come about?
DO: “It’s been in the works for a while. I don’t remember what month it was but we got into the spring of 2020. They had laid out the rules of the game, the concept of the game, how it’s going to be played differently, how they’re working with the NPF. We were just kind of talking about it and I was really really interested, especially since the Olympics were postponed. And I thought it was a really great opportunity.”
Q: With the rules of the game being different, is there an extra level of excitement?
DO: “I definitely think its exciting. We haven’t done it yet. I know they tried it out mathematically and they’ve done the algorithms to prove that this will work but we haven’t tried it out physically so I am really excited to try it. It’s definitely appealing in terms of it being different. It seems like such a wild idea. It’s run like a fantasy league but there’s never been anything like it for softball.”
Q: How will the talent within the league help you get prepared for the Olympics?
DO: “Yeah, we’ve all talked about it many times, that this is a really great opportunity, especially with the Olympics postponed and the NPF completely canceled. This is a great way for not just myself and my teammates but for other countries for their players to get exactly what they need. We’re all looking for the same thing.”
Q: Does is make it easier to jump into a new league like this when you have former teammates getting involved as well?
DO: “We were all teammates at one point, and it’s going to be great to hopefully get a chance to play on the same team again. I could easily not work out that way. But I think that all of us, meaning every single athlete on this roster has either played with each other, against each other at some point in time. So everybody knows everybody.”
Q: What will testing look like for Athletes Unlimited?
DO: “Yeah there are a lot of protocols in place. We do have testing protocols. We have doctors on site, and stuff like that so we are there taking the necessary precautions to make sure that we are safe and cleared. And we are actually doing more then the WNBA, NBA, and the MLB. We’re doing way more. We have rules for in-play and out-of-play. So from my understanding, it’s safe. There are always some risk, but it looks to be like they’re taking all the precautions necessary.”
Q: Are you nervous that the Olympics might get pushed back again or even canceled completely?
DO: “I’m trying really hard not to think about that at all. I don’t want to think about it. I don’t want to even put it out there in the universe that that is a possibility. So I just stay focused on the goal, and we take it one day at a time. Until that day comes, you have to try to stay positive. Especially now, but always, you just have to try to stay as positive as you can and hope it works out.”
Q: How will the rosters for Athletes Unlimited be put together?
DO: “Well there aren’t really teams, because of how it’s working, we’re drafting teams, and then those teams change weekly so there’s four teams but you’re not going to be on the same team as we were the week before. The teams are going to be constantly changing.”
Q: How hard will it be not having the same people on your team and seeing new faces every week? Will it be hard to get into some sort of rhythm?
DO: “Obviously it’s really nice to be comfortable with someone and not having to double-check all the time and to just trust that it’s going to happen, but we are all extremely good at what we do and that makes me believe. We’re also very adaptable. We’re capable of just quickly understanding change. So, yes it’s going to be a little bit difficult to get used to somebody quickly. But I think that because we’re all really good at what we do it’s not going to be that hard of a change.”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com writer Troy Hutchison hails from Tucson and is a lifelong Arizona Wildcats follower. He has been involved in sports journalism over the last two years while taking communications courses at Pima Community College.