NORMAN, Okla. – It had been about five months since Keilani Ricketts was last in Norman, but a special recognition at the Oklahoma football game on Nov. 16 against Iowa State brought the two-time defending USA Softball Player of the Year back to campus.
Ricketts was recognized in front of a sellout crowd of 84,776 for winning the 2013 Honda Cup, given to the nation’s top female collegiate athlete.
After helping guide the Sooners to the 2013 National Championship, the second in school history, Ricketts moved south to join the USSSA Pride of the National Pro Fastpitch League. The team had selected her with the fourth overall pick in the 2013 NPF Draft.
Ricketts joined for the Pride for the stretch-run of the season, helping the team win the NPF Championship. From there, she joined Toyota Industries Shokki of the Japanese Sports League as the team claimed third place in its league.
Ricketts recently took the time to talk with SoonerSports.com about what she’s been up to since the end of the magical 2013 Sooners softball season.
Q: How did you enjoy the recognition at the football game?
RICKETTS: I loved it. It was great because it was my first time being back in Norman since the softball season ended. So to see all the appreciation for softball and to see recognized me was really cool. Just as a female sport, for softball to get that much appreciation at the football game was a fun experience.
Q: Was it strange not going through fall camp with the Sooners this year?
RICKETTS: Yeah. I would see pictures and wonder how they were doing it without me. When I first got back to Norman I went to the camps they were holding over at the field. The whole team was working the camp, even Jess [Shults] and Michelle [Gascoigne] were working, and I was just sitting there visiting. It felt weird not doing stuff with the team.
Q: After the national championship, you went to play for the USSSA Pride. How was your experience in the National Pro Fastpitch League?
RICKETTS: Well I was only there for about half the season, but it was really good. I learned so much. Our team had a lot of Olympians and girls who had a lot of success in college, so it was cool to be around those girls and learn from them. They were so approachable and were willing to teach me stuff. We actually won the NPF Championship so it was fun to be able to play with them, even if it was only for a month. I’m excited for the next season already.
Q: What were some of those things you learned from your teammates?
RICKETTS: I would say how to approach hitters. Cat Osterman was on our team so she helped me a little with different pitches, and she’s a tall, left-handed pitcher so that helped, too. Whenever I was having problems with certain pitches I could go to the girls and ask what their approach was or what they would tell themselves. It was nice to be able to hear from them.
Q: Was there a different style of play in the NPF compared to college?
RICKETTS: Yeah, NPF was a very different style to get used to. Batters are facing the best pitchers all the time, and then I’m facing the best hitters all the time so everyone is just really good in the pros. Of course that makes sense playing at the professional level, but I just didn’t realize how much higher the competition was going to be. It was definitely an adjustment to get used to.
Q: Jessica Shults was already on the USSSA Pride roster when you joined. It must have been nice to have that familiar face there.
RICKETTS: Yeah, Jessica helped me with the transition. It was good to be able to have her there and help me get adjusted to the new lifestyle.
Q: You also then add to go up against former teammates Michelle Gascoigne (Chicago Bandits) and Brianna Turang (Akron Racers). What was that like?
RICKETTS: It was very weird. It was weird going against Bri’s team, but even more so against Michelle’s team because they were like our rivals in the league. It was weird because we almost had to hate her, but we were teammates for four years and now we have to be rivals.
Q: How soon after the NPF season did you then go to Japan to play?
RICKETTS: The next day. And then our first game was three days after that. It was a quick adjustment. I thought I was going to be more worn out going from the college season to the pro season to Japan, but it wasn’t that bad. It wasn’t as bad as I thought. I had a really good time in Japan; it was a lot of fun.
Q: How did you get the opportunity to play in Japan?
RICKETTS: The team that I play for, they have foreigners. This girl that was on the team before, Danielle Lawrie, I am pretty good friends with her. I was able to get in contact with her, and with Michele Smith. Michele’s broadcasted our OU games and with her connection to Oklahoma, they were talking with me and told me that the team was interested in me. I thought it would be the best fit, and it definitely was the best fit to be able to go over there.
Q: So how does the style of play in Japan differ from college and the NPF?
RICKETTS: It’s a completely different style of play. I can’t say which league is harder because they’re so different. It was an adjustment to get used to. They’re smaller than us in Japan and don’t play with as much power as the American style, but they’re able to use that to their advantage. Their defense is amazing. I told Coach Gasso this, I don’t even have to field a ground ball because they field everything behind me. But it’s really fun to get used to this style of softball because I’m so used to American style of softball. To get used to the Japanese style is fun.
Q: How was the Japanese experience culturally?
RICKETTS: It’s cool; their culture is really cool. I didn’t know what to expect, but the girls are very respectful. Every team we faced, they had this culture or custom in how they follow these different rules how the older girls and younger girls differentiate. Everyone has different rules they have to follow based on their age, I guess, on the team. It’s cool to see the culture emerge on the softball field, as well. When we play other teams and bow to opponents before and after games, and bow to the fans. The other team’s fans will wish us good luck. It was just a really cool experience.
Q: Did you have other foreigners on the team with you?
RICKETTS: Yeah, my catcher was Jenny Topping. She was a two-time Olympian. She’s a lot older than me, and this was her third season over there. She was able to help me a lot with her experience and help me adjust.
Q: What’s the softball fan base like in Japan?
RICKETTS: It was really cool just to see how many people would come to softball games. We would have at least 100 fans at every game and against the good teams we’d have hundreds. It was really great to see that kind of support because softball and baseball are huge over there. It would be awesome if softball could make the Olympics in 2020 because of the fan base there.
Q: So what’s next for you?
RICKETTS: I signed another contract for my Japanese team, which starts in March. Their season is a little different. It goes from March to May and then from September to November. So in the summer I’ll be playing with NPF and then going back to Japan.