After Big Summer For Softball, Ali Aguilar Ready To Lead A Young U.S. Team Into Pan Am Games
by Steve Drumwright
As if she didn’t have enough to do already, Ali Aguilar has become a third-grade teacher.
The recently turned 28-year-old, better known as a star infielder for the U.S. women’s softball team, took up the educational duties on Mondays and Wednesdays at a homeschool co-op in the San Diego area, where she teaches all the subjects kids of that age need to know.
“They’re the cutest things,” Aguilar said. “Pretty fun at that age.”
She got into it via a friend who thought Aguilar might be good at it.
“I was like, ‘I want some experience other than softball,’” Aguilar said. “Teaching is a good combo because I’m used to coaching (camps and giving lessons). Obviously, I’m familiar with school; went through it myself (laughs). It just made sense.”
If her softball career is any indicator, she just might have another career waiting for her once her playing days are over.
But don’t worry, that isn’t anytime soon.
Aguilar and the U.S. team are in Santiago, Chile, for the Pan American Games Santiago 2023, where they open pool play against the host country at 3 p.m. ET on Sunday. Venezuela (Monday, noon) and Mexico (Wednesday, noon) are in the same group as the Americans, who are ranked No. 1 in the world. Third-ranked Puerto Rico, fourth-ranked Canada, Cuba and Peru are in the other group.
The U.S. is the defending gold medalist, having won nine of the 11 Pan Am tournaments it has played in, while going an amazing 100-5. One of those losses was to Canada in the 2019 semifinals, but the U.S. came back to win its next game and then beat its northern neighbor 3-1 for the gold medal.
This is Aguilar’s second Pan Am Games, as she was on the team that won it all in 2019 in Lima, Peru. She hit .318 (7-for-22) with a pair of home runs, eight RBIs and five runs scored in eight games.
She is expected to be the starting second baseman on a U.S. roster that features a lot of new faces from the team that brought home a silver medal at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. Aguilar is one of just five players on the 16-woman Pan Am Games roster who were in Tokyo. Most notably, the U.S. has had to rework its pitching staff with two legends, Monica Abbott and Cat Osterman, retiring.
Ally Carda, who pitched eight innings in Tokyo including two in the gold-medal game against Japan, leads the staff with Kathryn Sandercock, Montana Fouts and Rachel Garcia. Aguilar called Carda a “really good leader.” For many of the players, though, this will be a key opportunity to gain international experience.
“It’s definitely a little bit of a younger group,” Aguilar said. “I’m excited about it. I’m excited for them to get the experiences, and I think they’re just as talented. Just getting that experience for them will be huge.”
Aguilar has developed into one of the leaders for the U.S. She is more of a leader by example, there to show the next wave how things are done.
“It is different,” Aguilar said. “Sometimes I can find my comfort in being the new one and just wide-eyed and like, ‘OK, I’m just going to follow what the ones that have been here.’ You know, follow that lead. But now I’m one of the ones that has more of the experience, having played USA since 2016. … So now I have more of the experiences and so, yeah, just trying to pass along any info or like the way we do things, the standard of what’s expected, is different because I think I’m one of the older ones now. It’s nice though, being able to help in that way.”
It's already been a successful summer for the U.S., with the team having gone undefeated in the WBSC Women’s Softball World Cup Stage 1 in Ireland with much of the Pan Am Games roster. More importantly, softball was brought back to the Olympic program for the Olympic Games LA 2028. It will not be played in Paris, however.
Aguilar is excited at the prospect of playing in an Olympics on home soil and trying to build the sport up so it can remain a core part of the Olympic schedule. She recalls everyone talking about the 2004 and 2008 teams because, before Aguilar and the U.S. played in Tokyo, those were the last two Olympics that included softball.
“To know that 2028 is in,” said Aguilar, “and now all these softball players have a dream or even just like a goal or a vision for where they can go with softball to play on the biggest stage … I just think about any softball player now can have more of an aim and an opportunity and this motivation and fire to go after something. I just think it’s awesome. And it’s obviously really exciting that it’s in L.A. too.”