* Ashley Stephenson and Kate Psota, two veterans who lead Canucks into Pan Am Games. …
Stephenson, Psota longtime stars with Team Canada women’s team
By Danny Gallagher
One is 32, the other is 26. One plays the hot corner, the other is the first baseman. They both happen to live in Burlington, Ont.
They hold the most seniority on Canada’s national women’s baseball team going back to 2004 and they are looking forward to the Pan Am Games tournament slated for the Toronto suburb of Ajax in July.
Ashley Stephenson and Kate Psota, who is holed up in Australia until May, have that special bond that comes with seniority. Stephenson is the oldest player on the team and appreciates that trivia item.
“Yes, I am the oldest by a few years. It’s not a close race. I win it by a long shot. Ha-ha,’’ she said in an interview. “Kate and I are very good friends. Besides playing baseball together, we also played on the same university hockey team for a year. Then I graduated and left. I’m much older than her. We have so many memories.
“Every time we go away together we chat about some of the funny or scary situations we’ve been in. Seemed like every year for the first three or four years we were in some type of disaster — earthquakes, hurricanes, shootings. We love it. We can talk ball all day and all night.’’
Stephenson is a teacher at Dr. Frank J. Hayden Secondary School in Burlington and just recently returned from Africa with other teachers and 13 students as part of a school trip which offered a different perspective to life and gave her more memories of a life filled with trips around the world.
”My best/most favorite memory would be in 2004 when I participated in the first ever Women’s World Cup in Edmonton,’’ Stephenson said. “We won a bronze medal that year and although we were disappointed, when we walked into the stadium after our game to watch what was left of the gold medal game, the crowd of 7,000 gave us a standing ovation. It was the proudest moment I’ve had being part of this team.’’
Stephenson started playing baseball when she was 12 because her hockey friends all played baseball so she switched over from softball. She played with friends and loved it and considered herself very lucky to make Team Ontario when she was a teenager. That switch-over to baseball at age 12 prompted her to wear No. 12 on the back of her uniform to this day.
Stephenson heard about Team Canada and the tryouts that were taking place across Canada to gauge the selection of the 2004 team. Of course, she decided to try out, going to an open turnout in Mississauga, where she lived at the time, and from there she got an invite to the top-40 camp at Olympic Stadium in the last year the Expos played in Montreal.
“I was selected to the team following that camp and have been on the team ever since,’’ Stephenson said.
Fortunately, she doesn’t suffer from the numerous concussions that ended her hockey career which spanned more than 20 years. She sustained two serious concussions and a number of smaller ones and her neurologist thought it was best for her to stop playing hockey. In return, he allowed her to continue playing baseball and thankfully, she doesn’t suffer from any major side effects, just little things but nothing that impacts her daily quality of life.
Then the topic shifts to the Pan Ams. Should be interesting and exciting.
“Obviously, we want to bring home a gold medal on home soil,’’ she said. “There are five strong teams in the tournament but the USA will likely be our toughest competition. We have been very evenly matched the past few years so it will be exciting to play them on this big of a stage. I’m looking forward to great things from us this summer.’’
Like Richardson, Psota also travelled to Montreal for that same tryout camp in 2004 and she made it.
“I was selected to the first-ever team so it was a pretty special day for me,’’ Psota said from Australia. ”Best baseball memory for me I would have to say was in Japan in 2008 playing for gold in front of about 20,000 people. Although we did not win, it was the first time we made it to a final match. The crowd was electric. I remember hardly being able to communicate with my teammates on the field.
“That was the best finish the team has had to date. We played against Japan in that final. It’s always exciting to play against them because they are the best women’s team in the world.’’
The friendship with Stephenson is something Psota will cherish forever.
“Ash has been a great teammate and mentor to me for a long time even going back before 2004,” Psota said. “We are good friends and are usually roommates for nationals and Team Canada events. Unfortunately, we both have busy schedules so we don’t spend a lot of time together outside of baseball but we live close to one another and if she needs help with anything, she knows she can call whenever.
“There have been so many awesome memories which she has been a part of. I think her passion and drive are her defining characteristics as a ball player. She is a fantastic leader and always has the respect of her peers.
“If I had to pick one baseball memory about her, it would be in a game against the Americans. I cannot recall the year — 2006 or 2008 — but it was a must-win game in a crucial situation and I was pitching. Ash was at third and the heart of their batting order was up. There was so much intensity and I remember a ball being laced down at Ash and she had hardly had time to react so out of instinct, she just took it in the chest and threw the batter out at first. That’s the kind of teammate she is.’’
With Japan not playing in the Pan Ams, how does Psota see things playing out for Canada?
“We are definitely in a good position to win a medal and should be in the gold medal game,” Psota said. “Our toughest opponent will be the USA. The games we play against them always bring out the best in both sides and I look forward to the challenge.’’
Psota has been in Australia for a few months and the experience gets her ready for the Pan Ams in a warm-weather environment.
“To not sound too cliché, I went to Australia for the love of the game,’’ she said. “I came to Australia in 2011-2012 to play baseball through an all-Canadian winter upon the invite of some Aussie friends who happen to be national baseballers themselves.
“I had an unbelievable time and made so many more friends. I was fortunate enough to come back again this year to get some swings and throws in during our off-season. The women who play baseball down here are truly passionate about the game so it’s fun to be around them when it’s freezing at home. Never a shortage of people to hit you grounders or throw you some BP.’’
Psota will return to Canada in May in time for the selection camp that will choose the roster for the Pan Ams. A few games and practice sessions will be held at Connorvale Park in Toronto and the Blue Jays will allow the team to use the Rogers Centre for a few days.
Stephenson and Psota are locks to make the team. All a formality, just like down the road, both should be considered locks after they retire for the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, which has insufficient numbers of female inductees.