Brown University undergraduate Olivia Pichardo has become the first female athlete in NCAA Division I history to be named to a varsity baseball roster, marking a historic moment for women in sports and a personal milestone enabled by Pichardo’s dogged determination.
The 18-year-old first-year student from Queens, New York, has devoted her time and energy to baseball since age 5. By middle school, she dreamed she could continue playing in college, despite being a female athlete in a male-dominated sport.
So when she started her first semester at Brown in September, she participated in baseball walk-on tryouts followed by a weeks-long assessment process that included rigorous practice and workouts with current players. She was elated, albeit in shock, when she clinched a spot as the team officially announced its roster for the 2023 season, which begins next February.
“It was definitely a surreal moment for me because it’s something that I’ve wanted since eighth grade,” Pichardo said. “It’s kind of crazy to know that I’m living out my dream right now and my ideal college experience that I’ve always wanted, so that’s really cool.”
According to Baseball for All, a nonprofit working to improve gender equity in baseball and provide girls across the country opportunities to play, coach and lead within the sport, nearly 20 women have been members of collegiate baseball rosters at various schools, with at least eight slated to suit up for the 2023 season — but none at the NCAA Division I level.
Pichardo says she feels humble about that distinction and grateful to those who have inspired her along the way.
“I’m just really glad that we’re having more and more female baseball players at the collegiate level, and no matter what division, it’s just really good to see this progression,” Pichardo said. “It’s really paving the way for other girls in the next generation to also have these goals that they want to achieve and dream big and know that they can do it.”
Brown University Baseball Head Coach Grant Achilles said he was immediately impressed by Pichardo’s athleticism, versatility and strength during her standout tryout and subsequent practices, as she flexed her skills as a middle infielder, outfielder and pitcher.
“Every fall, we hold tryouts for students interested in joining our team,” said Achilles, who has led Brown’s baseball team since 2014 after earlier coaching appointments at Georgetown, Wake Forest and Western Carolina. “It’s a workout common for baseball and allows us to evaluate athleticism and arm strength, as well as both offensive and defensive skills. Olivia put together the most complete walk-on tryout I have seen from a player since becoming a head coach.”
Devoted to baseball
Pichardo’s spot on Brown’s varsity baseball team marks the next major moment in a baseball career that began in the Forest Hills Little League in Queens when she was a kindergartener.
Pichardo went on to play travel baseball on Long Island and varsity high school baseball at Garden School in Queens as both a seventh and eighth grader. She also played club baseball for the New York Crush and Next Level Baseball.
All of those experiences fueled her ambition to play on the USA Baseball Women’s National Team when she hit the age of eligibility at 16, but the COVID-19 pandemic delayed her ability to try out until Summer 2022, which was an experience in and of itself at Target Field in Minneapolis, home of the Minnesota Twins.
“During the trials we got to play at the Twins’ stadium, which was really, really cool,” Pichardo said. “I got to start on the mound there and feel what it’s like to pitch on a Major League mound. It was just so perfect.”
She made the USA Baseball Women’s National Team as a right-handed pitcher and outfielder and participated in the Summer 2022 Friendship Series against Team Canada in Thunder Bay, Ontario, at which USA Baseball won the five-game series 3-2.
“It was the highlight of my summer to just play baseball every single day,” Pichardo said, “and just hang out with the team afterwards.”
Off the field, Pichardo interned in the New York Mets’ amateur scouting department. When she committed to attending Brown, she set her sights on playing for the baseball team, reaching out to Achilles and gleaning as much advance information as possible about the team and the tryout process.
“For me, I always just wanted to play college baseball, no matter what division it was,” Pichardo said.
Even though she has spent most of her baseball career as the lone woman on all-male teams, Pichardo noted how welcome she felt during her first practice with the Brown baseball players, which helped turn “nervousness into excitement.”
“Coach introduced me to the entire team, and all of them greeted me warmly,” Pichardo said. “Everybody was super welcoming, and I really felt that from my teammates.”
It was during a routine October team meeting with all the players gathered in a meeting room in the Olney-Margolies Athletic Center when Achilles announced that Pichardo made the team, prompting an eruption of applause from her new teammates.
“I did not expect that at all — that definitely took me by surprise,” Pichardo said. “Everyone was super happy about it.”
Brown and baseball
Pichardo said that making the baseball team during her first semester at Brown was the icing on the cake after being accepted into her “favorite Ivy League school,” to which she was drawn by its signature Open Curriculum and an academic culture that supports students “holistically, as a person,” Pichardo said.
“It’s just so set apart,” Pichardo said. “Brown’s academic philosophy is really helpful in shaping students to be successful.”
Along her path to choose a concentration, which she’ll declare in the years to come, Pichardo said she’s taking full advantage the Open Curriculum to probe different interests.
“I think that it really allows me to explore academic areas that I never had the chance to explore in high school,” Pichardo said. “So I’m doing that right now, and it’s been a great experience overall.”
Pichardo thrives on the focus and time management demanded by Brown’s rigorous coursework combined with the demands of baseball practice and training.
“It’s stressful, but it’s the stress that I want,” Pichardo said. “I played sports my whole life, so I feel like having sports and then having my academics, it’s just a good balance for me.”
Pichardo is among 31 players on the Brown baseball Spring 2023 roster, and she’ll serve as a utility player who can play both the infield and outfield when she and her teammates open their season on Feb. 24, 2023, with a four-game series at Georgia State.
In the meantime, Pichardo is focused on her studies and her baseball training, and less so on her trailblazing place in history as the first woman to play NCAA Division I baseball.
“I did achieve my goal of playing D1 baseball at a really good school academically,” Pichardo said. “I’m trying to take it day-by-day, really just focusing on becoming the best baseball player that I can be and doing what I can do to help out the team.”