Chamberlain brings 'passion' to youth softball

August 10th, 2021

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Former college superstar Lauren Chamberlain has been retired from softball for three years, but she is still a force to be reckoned with in the game.

The 28-year-old Chamberlain was invited by Major League Baseball to be the organization’s newest Youth Softball Ambassador, and she was on hand for the tournament’s opening games -- her first visit -- at Jackie Robinson Training Complex.

On Monday morning at JRTC, pool play began in the Championship Tournament of the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities Program portion of the 2021 RBI World Series, which will run through Friday’s title game.

Six teams -- Atlanta Braves RBI, Houston Astros Foundation RBI, Cincinnati Reds RBI, Los Angeles Dodgers RBI, Michael Stepp RBI of Greater Harrisburg and Roberto Clemente RBI -- are competing for the tourney’s top spot, with players ranging age 19 and under.

“Honestly, I love being here and in the role of, ‘I’ve done all these things, but I’m also your friend. I’m just like you,'” said the upbeat Chamberlain, who spoke with the players after lunch in a workshop-style discussion.

“It’s fun to form that friendship and let them know I’m here for them and have been in their shoes and understand what they’re feeling and going through on the field. It’s nice to develop those friendships and relationships with the girls.”

The National Pro Fastpitch’s No. 1 overall pick in 2015 -- the NFP shut down its league operations last week -- Chamberlain retired from the USSSA Pride after helping the professional club to a championship in her final season in '18.

Chamberlain’s passion for the game still burns intensely, and it was on full display Monday at the softball complex behind venerable Holman Stadium. A sweltering dawn soon turned into a rainy mid-morning after just over an hour of play, halting all three contests due to unplayable conditions.

The boisterous Chamberlain met with the teams before the games’ first pitches, then celebrated from behind the stands when a player launched a home run -- her specialty with the bat as a four-year standout at the University of Oklahoma.

After a Harrisburg player stroked a towering homer, Chamberlain celebrated and ran over to Destinee Martinez, her former college teammate and who is also working in camp, and high-fived the fellow Sooner, saying she knew the young prep player would go deep in the game.

In her four years in Norman, including an injury marred 39-game junior campaign, Chamberlain blasted 95 home runs and produced a .960 slugging percentage -- both current NCAA records.

She is also a four-time NFCA All-American, a three-time Big 12 First Team selection and a member of Oklahoma’s 2013 national championship squad.

A career .395 hitter with 254 RBIs in 220 games played at OU, Chamberlain said she was a “late bloomer” playing on the West Coast and only went all-in on softball during her freshman year at El Toro High School in Lake Forest, Calif.

“As soon as I started to get serious, I saw the offers start coming in,” said Chamberlain, who resides in Oklahoma City. “I was in the dugout [today] and hanging around one of the teams. They had a game plan and were ready to go, and I’m freaking out, starting to sweat, excited. This is like that purity of softball that I fell in love with.

“You can really see that [love] at this event. They really care and want this so bad for their teammates. It’s given me a breath of fresh air.”

That enthusiasm, love for softball and her staggering offensive production in an illustrious career as a first baseman at OU are what make Chamberlain a strong role model for young players embarking on collegiate careers.

“Lauren is just awesome overall. Her energy is really key for these kids to see,” said Martinez, who is the liaison between USA Softball and MLB in the role of managing director of sport development. “Her passion is there, her athleticism is great, she’s the home run record-holder, but it’s really her energy.

“People want to be like her and want to be around her. And she loves being here. One thing that’s really important is finding ambassadors who love the sport and love the girls genuinely without knowing them.

“I know we’ll get that from Lauren.”

While peering out at Monday’s games, Chamberlain said she doesn’t foresee a future for herself behind a lectern and teaching her major -- women and gender studies -- in a classroom.

Instead, her new role features pupils who were tightening their grips on their bats, digging in at home plate, going through a practice swing or two and preparing to send a fastball deep -- perhaps to center field, where many of Chamberlain’s home runs soared before going out.

“I hope to be doing this a long, long time,” she said.