History! Brown U. freshman is first woman to play Division I baseball

March 18th, 2023

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- There she was, Olivia Pichardo, making history on the field for the Brown University baseball team.

On Friday, Pichardo became the first woman to play in an NCAA Division I baseball game. The freshman utility player pinch-hit for the Bears in the bottom of the ninth inning against Bryant.

"It's nice to get your first out of the way," the 19-year-old Pichardo said. "There probably aren't gonna be as many nerves for the rest of my at-bats that I get. But it was a really special moment."

Pichardo swung at the first pitch she saw and grounded out to first. But there will be more at-bats. And the second the Brown baseball PA announcer called her name over the stadium loudspeakers, and she stepped into that left-handed batter's box, Pichardo had taken a big step for the sport.

"I don't feel different or anything," Pichardo said. "All I can say is, it was a lot of fun, and I'm glad that I was able to get something out of my first at-bat. … I just tried to treat it like I would any other game."

"Honestly, I would say we're just happy for her," senior outfielder Derian Morphew said. "I don't think we, in the moment, think too big of how important or influential of a moment it is, we're just excited to see her get the chance to prove what she has. Which I thought was great today. We've seen her have plenty of ABs, but it's an adjustment for other teams, where I think it could have surprised a lot of them, too. And she just showed what she's capable of."

Pichardo, who made the team in November, was in uniform for the first time in Brown's home opener at Murray Stadium after not suiting up for the team's season-opening road trip. In the ninth inning, coach Grant Achilles got her into the game in a low-pressure situation, with Brown trailing, 10-1.

"It was the culmination of a lot of hard work for Liv," Achilles said. "Really, just an acknowledgment that she's a part of our team -- she has been from the start. And she's not just here for show. She's here to hack. Here to play."

Before her at-bat, Achilles told Pichardo the same thing he told his other players getting their first at-bat of the season on Friday: "Get your heart rate down, enjoy the moment, and then go out there and be on time for a fastball."

"And she did it," Achilles said. "It's hard to ground yourself in those moments, especially when it's such a historic moment that she's been a part of. Just know that she was ready for it all along."

It's important to note that while Pichardo is now the first woman to play Division I baseball, there's an ever-growing history of women in college baseball at other levels -- going all the way back to Susan Perabo at Webster University in 1987 and Julie Croteau at St. Mary's College of Maryland in 1989.

Perabo, a second baseman, played for Webster's first-ever varsity baseball team, and Croteau played first base in her career at St. Mary's.

Baseball For All lists 24 women in total who have played baseball at the collegiate level through 2023. That includes seven playing this season in addition to Pichardo:

  • Avery Smith (P/2B, Holland College)
  • Christina Elsbury (P, Gallaudet University)
  • Remi Schaber (P/INF, Hood College)
  • Alexia Jorge (C, St. Elizabeth University)
  • Skylar Kaplan (P, St. Mary's College of Maryland)
  • Marika Lyszczyk (P, Sonoma State University) (you might recognize her from her popular TikTok)
  • Jazzmine Rivera (P, Harry S. Truman College)

Pichardo has always played baseball. Before Brown, that included playing for the USA Baseball women's national baseball team in 2022.

She also participated in MLB's Breakthrough Series, a program that showcases girls to national teams and college recruitment programs, and MLB GRIT, a pro-style workout designed specifically for young female athletes to showcase their ability as baseball players.

In those programs, Pichardo caught the eye of Mets director of Major League operations Liz Benn, who was then working for the league office, before she became the highest-ranking woman in baseball operations in Mets franchise history. Benn first saw Pichardo at age 13 and watched Pichardo come up through MLB's youth programs, getting better every time she saw her. 

"It's really exciting, but it's also not surprising at all," Benn said of Pichardo playing in Division I. "There was one year that she did a lot of work in the offseason and developed a ton. Ever since then, she was turning heads everywhere. And the way that we saw her, we were like, 'If there's anyone in the high school program who can do it right now, it's definitely Olivia.'"

But the one who's watched Pichardo the longest: her dad, Max, who's been there for every step of the journey, from Forest Hills, Queens, to Providence. He was there on Friday to see her take her first college at-bat.

"Sometimes the moment is so big that it doesn't hit you until much later," he said after the game. "It's really hard to put it into context, because it's like, every single experience that you had, led to this. Knowing everything that she went through to get here, it just makes it all worth it."

When Pichardo came out of the dugout as the on-deck batter to start the ninth, the parents around Max Pichardo in the stands started shaking him. When she stepped to the plate, he said, he was sure he was more nervous than she was. But one pitch -- one swing -- later? Joy.

"I just couldn't be happier," he said. "Her being aggressive, going at it, first pitch, put the bat on it."

More women will follow Pichardo and the others playing college baseball onto the field. They already are.

"I really hope that," Pichardo said. "My dad actually told me yesterday that my Little League reached out to him and told him that a lot more girls are starting to register for Forest Hills Little League, which is where I grew up playing. That really meant a lot to me."

Benn sees it happening, too -- a pipeline forming for girls from youth baseball to college. 

"Every year there's more and more," Benn said. "They're getting more playing time, they're playing in higher quality programs. So it's just really exciting to see. It's definitely not an anomaly anymore."