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After Legendary Career, Kelly Kretschman Leads New Pros

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(Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

ROSEMONT, Ill. — In her first game as a captain during the 2021 Athletes Unlimited season, Aleshia Ocasio started in the circle and batted fifth in the lineup.

Handling in-game coaching decisions in addition to hitting and pitching can be a lot to handle, but Ocasio had one of the best players in softball history there to help her out. Her Purple team defeated Cat Osterman’s Gold team on the afternoon of Sept. 11 with the help of pinch-hit RBIs from Taylor Edwards and Courtney Gano. Ocasio, though, deflected the credit on those pinch-hitting decisions to her facilitator.

“In those in-game situations, I left it up to Kelly Kretschman,” Ocasio said. “We talk before the game, but ultimately I’m focused on getting outs on defense, so I delegate that responsibility to Kelly.”

Kretschman accomplished just about everything a softball player can during her playing career. She was a four-time collegiate All-American at Alabama from 1998 to 2001, won a gold and silver medal in the Olympics for Team USA and was named National Pro Fastpitch Player of the Year for three consecutive years between 2015 and 2017.

After hanging up her cleats, at least domestically, following the 2019 NPF season, Kretschman is now one of four facilitators helping out the AU captains this year. She was not around for AU’s first season in 2020 because she was playing in the Japanese professional league.

“I would have loved to have done it last year, but I had already committed to playing in Japan,” Kretschman said. “This past year, knowing I wasn’t going to be playing anymore, I just wanted to still be involved in the game somehow. I talked to some of the girls on the PEC, and they were excited about it.”

The facilitators help the captains with their draft strategy, running practices and making in-game decisions, as well as coaching third base. Kretschman and the other facilitators—Ellie Cooper, Bobby Buchanan and Canadian Olympian Joey Lye—rotate among the team colors each week.

So far, Kretschman has worked with captains Jessie Warren, Sahvanna Jaquish, Ocasio and Osterman. But it’s not just the captains who benefit from having her around.

“She’s a really comforting face,” Amanda Lorenz said. “She’s really been in our shoes, but she also makes things realistic. She doesn’t make the game too big, helps us simplify and take a deep breath. She’s the GOAT, but for a lot of us, she’s our friend too.”

Sashel Palacios, who played for the Kretschman-facilitated Team Warren in Week 1, hit the eventual game-winning home run in a 3-1 victory over Team Piancastelli on Aug. 29, and she said Kretschman’s presence in the third-base coaching box gave her confidence.

“It’s something so special to get to learn from her,” Palacios said after that game. “She makes everybody around her better, she wants you to be held to a standard. I’m just a sponge. We’re learning everything we can from her, and it’s a big blessing to have her here to share her knowledge with not just our team but all the teams that are going to be with her this year.”

Kretschman has coached in the college game before—she was a volunteer assistant at Maryland in 2012 and a paid assistant with Texas State in 2015 and 2016, where she worked alongside Osterman. Now, she’s working with a plethora of Olympians and former All-Americans, but even they still feel they can learn a lot from the living legend.

“I love when they pick my brain,” Kretschman said. “I’m just here for whatever they need. I feel like I have a huge wealth of knowledge, and I just want to share it and help in any way I can.”

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