Arizona softball shortstop Jessie Harper, a two-time All-American, was on Wednesday’s edition of Eye on the Ball. Heading into the weekend series with UCLA she has 89 home runs. She is three homers shy of the school record, needing four to take over the lead. Harper was recently drafted as part of the Athletes Unlimited Draft, one of three players from the university and is one of 12 on the team.
(Transcribed by Justin Sternad)
Here’s a portion of the conversation with Steve & Jay:
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about what that was like for you to hear your name be called at the Athletes Unlimited Draft with the chance to play some professional softball.
Harper: “This opportunity that Athletes Unlimited is giving us is super exciting. Ever since I was a little girl, I would tell all the boys on the playground I’m going to play college softball and then play professional softball and softball is cool and is better than baseball. Watch me I’ll be better than you.
During the draft and seeing my name called, and seeing my teammates names called, it was so cool to see that my teammates and I are living out our dreams and are continuing to play the sport we love and at the end of the day, we’re going to continue to grow the sport. The AU sports league will have a lot of games on TV and be able to inspire little girls to continue the sport and get them to go out and play and get them on the college page we are today.”
Q: So what did the guys tell you when you told them that on the playground?
Harper: “I was always one of those girls that was always playing with the guys during school and would play basketball and kickball or anything I could do. Meanwhile all the boys would think baseball is harder than softball and were better than me, they just didn’t believe it. So I know they’re following me on Instagram and let it speak for itself.”
Q: How does AU work and what happens to you once you’re done here at Arizona?
Harper: “Athletes Unlimited is super cool and is run by the players. The rules are set by the players, the players are coaching the game, and the players get to choose the teams. It’s five weeks long and the whole first week is practice, media and meeting everyone and then they will choose four players to be team captains for each of the four teams and then they’ll do a draft of all the players. It’s [off] a point system, a home run is 40 points, single is 10 points, double is 20 points, etc. If you’re pitching, you can earn points off a strikeout. Basically, you want to be on the top of that leaderboard for points because after that first week whoever is on top of the leaderboard for points, is then the new coach and gets to draft a new team. At the end of it whoever you are with points kind of equivalates to the more money you get at the end of the day … It sounds like a super cool opportunity to be constantly changing teams, playing with new players, and I’m excited to meet them and learn from them.”
Q: In hitting or fielding, which was easier or harder for you growing up?
Harper: “I think I always loved hitting. Hitting was just more fun for me to do, but now that I’m older, I love going and getting ground balls. During COVID, my sister and my dad would go to the field and I’d field ground balls and my sister would play first for me. Fielding is just really fun, but at the end of the day hitting is always going to be my true love. Hitting is a game of failure for sure, you can get a hit 3 out of 10 times and be doing solid, so it’s definitely a bit of a messing game, but I love both.”
Q: Were you always one of the best players on your team given the position you play?
Harper: I’d like to think so, but I’ve been lucky enough to play with a lot of great players that are playing at a lot of top schools right now. I’ve been growing up with some great players and have learned a lot from them and I don’t think if I was on some of the top travel ball teams, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I’ve been blessed with some really great teammates.”
Q: You’re closing in on the home run record now, how does that feel, is the pressure mounting or has it? Do you think about it?
Harper: “I try not to think about it as pressure, it’s just something that is like a goal I have for myself now. I just want to get to 90 and that’s kind of how I look at it now. At the end of the day, it’s so much fun to step out on the field with my teammates and if a home run helps my team win, that’s what it’s all about. It’s coming up on the postseason now, so we need to do our best to keep winning and take it pitch by pitch. Definitely, the home running is fun, but as long as it helps my team win because I want to get back to the world series.
Q: Where is the team’s head right now, what’s your mentality, where are you guys in terms of how you’re playing and what you got to do this weekend?
Harper: “It was a grind in Oregon last weekend and had some very competitive games and the games we lost were only by one run. We were able to support our pitchers and left there on a high note. This weekend is Senior’s Weekend, so it’s my last Pac-12 home series with me and my fellow seniors, so I think we’re so excited for that, have family in the stands, but UCLA is always a fun team to play. There’s been a tradition behind the series with UCLA and Arizona but right now we’re all just excited and in a super high mood. We have a lot of trust in ourselves and trust in our teammates but I think it’s going to be a good weekend, will be competitive and we’re just so excited because we have in mind that if we win these games we can host super regionals.”
To listen to the entire interview, click on the link. Listen to Steve and Jay weekdays from 3-5 pm on Fox Sports 1450. https://www.iheart.com/podcast/1248-eye-on-the-ball-70788317/episode/eye-on-the-ball-wednesday-82476988/