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Keilani Ricketts Shines For OKC Spark After Becoming A Mom

keilani ricketts softball photo by okc spark.jpg
(Photo courtesy of OKC Spark)

Keilani Ricketts didn’t know where the future of her softball career was headed when she returned to the United States from Japan in 2021 after her time with Team USA as an Olympic alternate and another successful season in the Japan Diamond Softball League.

While over 6,000 miles away from home, the pitcher learned some of the greatest news of all, and her life was about to significantly change when she discovered she was pregnant.

But even though the NCAA, NPF, Japan Diamond Softball League and Team USA champion already had one of the most historic softball careers of anyone to ever play the game, retirement still didn’t sit well with her.

“I just didn’t feel like I wanted to retire after the Olympics happened,” Ricketts said. “When I found out I was pregnant (the stigma) is usually like, ’stop playing, have your kid and raise your family.’ I wasn’t really feeling like I wanted to stop and I feel like retire is such a strong word.”

After the birth of her daughter, Elizabeth, in May 2022 and taking a summer away from the field, Ricketts knew that if she wanted to keep playing, it would have to be under nearly perfect circumstances. She needed a team close to her home in Oklahoma that would allow her to keep her family by her side.

“I took last summer off and just enjoyed being a mother and learned how to be a mother at that time,” Ricketts said. “I enjoyed my time off from softball, but I was thinking if I were to play again, it would’ve had to be the perfect opportunity for my family and for me as a softball player.”

And luckily for Ricketts, it just so happened that the Women’s Professional Fastpitch league was working at that time to develop the Oklahoma City Spark, Oklahoma’s first professional softball team, under owner Tina Floyd.

“I was hearing rumors that WPF was going to start a pro softball team in Oklahoma, but it wasn’t until they announced it that it sparked my interest,” Ricketts said. “When I heard about that team, that’s when I was like, ’let’s see if I can still do this because my body has changed quite a bit, but I want to play again.’”

After a discussion with Floyd about how Ricketts could balance her mom-life with her softball-life, a position on OKC's roster was officially offered. With 10 years of professional softball experience behind her, training on her own and getting herself into game shape in the offseason was nothing new to Ricketts.

But without the help of her usual season in Japan, Ricketts had to find makeshift ways to bring her arm back up to speed, while also learning to play after giving birth.

“The biggest thing for me was getting my arm back into game shape,” Ricketts said. “I was back home in Oklahoma this past spring leading up to the season, and I was just having to find batters to throw to. My body has changed quite a bit since having a baby, and I had to figure out (how to work with) my hips (that) are a little bit different than what they were before, and how I can get my hand through on certain pitches.”

And Ricketts picked up right where she left off and is still performing in the circle and at the plate, just with a new travel partner now and a bigger purpose to play for. So far this season, Ricketts is 5-2 in the circle with a 2.98 ERA and leads the Spark in innings pitched with 54.1 this summer. At the plate, she's batting .250 with three RBIs on the campaign to date.

With her daughter on her hip through every airport and hotel hallway, it’s been an adjustment going from mom one minute to teammate the next, but Ricketts is loving how this opportunity with the Spark has played out.

“I knew what I was getting into, that I might be a little tired going to games and I might be drained depending on what kind of day it is with (my daughter), but that’s what I signed up for,” Ricketts said. “Motherhood is a different type of tired and one that I had never been used to in the past as an athlete. If you are tired, it doesn’t matter, you still have to grind through it.”

Without the support system of her husband, teammates and OKC Spark front office members, Ricketts’ career may have been forced to end. The Spark players have welcomed her daughter with open arms and rely on her to cheer them up when moments get tough throughout the season.

Ricketts hopes her daughter will one day realize that having fun in life and keeping a strong circle of family and friends behind her is one of the most important things.

“I knew I wouldn’t be able to do this without the support of our owners and teammates,” Ricketts said. “I hope (my daughter) is able to take away that you can’t do anything in life without your support system, and without having fun and going with it. When it’s gruesome and our flights get delayed, she is always there with a smile on her face and she always brings a simple joy to our team. I want her to be able to see that you can enjoy the simple joys of life.”

alex storako oklahoma softball Photo by Tyler Schank_NCAA Photos via Getty Images.jpg

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