The Norman Transcript

June 8, 2014

Team USA and USA’s best player still not on same page

By Clay Horning
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — I started thinking about writing something like this a few days ago when USA Softball announced the 25 players it was inviting to its selection camp because as I scanned the names on the list I had this vague idea I might see a shocker of a name.

Keilani Ricketts.

But it wasn’t there.

As you may recall, she was named to Team USA for a third summer following her leading Oklahoma to the 2014 national championship, only to not be part of the team by the time the Americans opened play at the World Cup of Softball.

Ricketts said she wanted to play the summer with the national team before deciding if she would sign a long-term contract, that went beyond the diamond, that would have made her the face of the game, with the American Softball Association. She said she was not given the option of doing exactly that.

The ASA and USA Softball’s position was never entirely clear. 

National team coach Ken Eriksen said he’d asked every team member for a two-year commitment because 2014 was a World Championship year.

USA Softball national team director Ronnie Isham said Ricketts had never asked to separate the ASA contract talks and her summer commitment to Team USA.

In a column I wrote following the first day of the last summer’s World Cup of Softball, I decided that we might be looking at nothing more than a colossal misunderstanding.

If possible, that misunderstanding seems even more colossal now.

Currently, Ricketts is a member of the USSSA Pride, one of the four teams in National Pro Fastpitch, for which she signed a three-year contract on July 16 of last year.

Who knows, in its entirety, what that contract entails. Probably, it means Ricketts couldn’t try to come back to Team USA even if she wanted.

However, if she did, or if she could, “The bottom line is, my door is always open,” Isham said.

Isham said that Friday, the same day I tried to reach Ricketts, though she didn’t return a call or a text.

Nothing wrong with that, of course, she’s busy and very likely wants to forget the whole episode. Still, it’s a small diamond tragedy that’s continuing to play out.

It’s a big summer for USA Softball. A world champion will be crowned in The Netherlands come August. Seems like the best player maybe on the planet should be a part of it.

About that colossal misunderstanding …

If Isham said it once to me Friday, he said it a million times, the only thing — THE ONLY THING — the ASA and USA Softball told Ricketts last summer she could not do was play in the World Cup in front of ESPN’s cameras and then bolt for NPF before the summer was done.

“All we wanted her to do,” Isham said, “was play through all of our summer events.”

Yet, somehow, that’s not the way Ricketts saw it and I absolutely believed her then and haven’t changed my mind since. The problem? I believe Isham, too.

Among the other things Isham said?

He said it’s probably for the best Ricketts didn’t go for the long-term ASA contract because the cost to the ASA, in retrospect, might simply have been too much. 

“Because of the amount we were going to pay her,” he said.

He said even though she’s under contract to NPF, that doesn’t bar her from playing for the national team as far as USA Softball’s concerned, though it probably does as far as NPF is concerned.

Mostly, though, he, too, lamented the way everything went down last summer.

I asked him if he thought Ricketts misinterpreted the idea that she didn’t have to say yes to the long-term contract to play out the summer. I asked him if he now thinks Ricketts thought she had to say yes to the ASA contract.

“If she misinterpreted (the terms),” Isham said, “nobody advising her ever came back to us for clarification or to renegotiate.”

So maybe that was the problem. Maybe what Keilani Ricketts really needed last summer was an agent.

Maybe if everybody’d been on the same page, the best player in Sooner softball history and maybe the best player, period, would be playing for her country this summer and beyond.

Isham said something else.

He said USA Softball and Ricketts have had no contact with each other since it all fell apart last summer.

It’s too bad.

Still.

Clay Horning

Follow me @clayhorning

cfhorning@normantranscript.com

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