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Healthy Heart, Mind Help Danielle O'Toole Win AUX Title

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(Photo by Jade Hewitt/Athletes Unlimited)

In the first-ever Athletes Unlimited X (AUX) season, pitcher Danielle O’Toole walked away as the inaugural champion with 1,436 points. Only 68 points separated the first- and third-place finishers on the leaderboard, giving the abbreviated campaign the tightest finish across any Athletes Unlimited season to date.

In nine pitching appearances, O’Toole collected 18 strikeouts and finished the two-week season with a 1.69 ERA.

But if you ask the southpaw, she was not expecting to win the inaugural AUX title.

“When I found out I won, I was more in shock than anything else,” O’Toole said. “Coming into the AUX season, I did not expect to win. I was not trying to win. I had really gone out there not caring about the leaderboard. I went out there to do what I do best and what I have been doing my whole life.”

After an injured rotator cuff and a lengthy battle with her mental health as she played with Team Mexico in the Tokyo Olympics and with Athletes Unlimited last summer, O'Toole has been working to better herself, and that translated onto the mound during the AUX campaign.

“When I think about how this season went and ending up on top, I think, ‘what would the rest of my career look like if I had tried to be better mentally sooner?,’” O’Toole said. “Last year, I did the best that I could in the condition I was in. But, wow, look what I can do when I am healthy in my heart, my mind and my soul.”

AUX was a stepping stone for most players as they prepare for the third Athletes Unlimited championship season, which begins July 29 in Rosemont, Ill.

O’Toole finished 58th out of 60 players during the last Athletes Unlimited season. Ultimately, she says, it was the live pitching experience that AUX offered her that was a game-changer.

“I was not even close to being ready to throw live (when AUX started),” O’Toole said. “I was looking at this AUX season as a prep season. This is just all the practice I would normally be doing if we didn’t have this.”

With the AUX season coinciding with the 50th anniversary of Title IX, O’Toole is grateful to have the opportunity to play softball at the professional level.

“I would not have been able to go to college on an athletic scholarship if it wasn’t for Title IX,” O’Toole said. “We would not be getting paid to play professionally right now if it weren’t for Title IX. Title IX opened a lot of doors for me and for a lot of women, and I am hoping the next 50 years do it 100 times better. I want those little girls who are watching us to do it better and get paid more.”

As O’Toole moves on in her professional career and continues to be a leader on and off the field in softball, she is focused on helping the rookies develop. She has been most excited to give them advice and watch their style of play.

“I don’t know if I consider myself a veteran, but it has been quite a few years since I’ve been a rookie,” O’Toole said. “It is very interesting being on the other side and watching the rookies come in and figure it out. I am very excited for the AU championship season because of the rookies.”

O’Toole is still deciding how much longer she will play after the coming Athletes Unlimited championship season, but she does know that she will never stop learning from this ever-evolving game. O’Toole says that the Athletes Unlimited pitchers take notes from each other on their skills and philosophies around the game.

“It is fun learning, and I love finding something different,” O’Toole said. “Our sport is constantly changing, and there is not one right way to do it because it has been proven you can do something multiple ways and get the same or better result.”

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