The Queens kid who became D-1 baseball's first female player

Olivia Pichardo is making history

November 23rd, 2022

You likely heard the news of Olivia Pichardo becoming the first woman to make a Division I baseball team this week, but it wasn't her first brush with fame.

Back in 2019, as a 15-year-old, she hit triple digits on a speed pitch radar gun at Chicago's Guaranteed Rate Field. (She tells me it was actually measured in kilometers, but still, that's almost 70 mph for a sophomore in high school.)

Social media went wild. There were numerous stories and blogs praising her skills.

But unfortunately, as is the case when a girl does well in a sport predominantly played by boys, there was doubt. There was anger. There was ridiculous vitriol.

"That was my first time reading hate comments," Pichardo told me in a Zoom call. "People being like, 'Her arm's so strong from washing all those dishes in the kitchen.' Everything along those lines."

Graphic via Brown Athletics

Pichardo's interest in baseball first came about because of her dad.

Max Pichardo, hailing from the Dominican Republic, loved the game and wanted his daughter to love it, too. He moved to the Bronx when he was 12 years old and set up roots in Queens, where Olivia played only baseball, not softball, from the age of 5.

"Yeah, it was kind of instilled in me," Pichardo said. "On my own, I always wanted to just keep playing baseball."

Pichardo played Little League in Forest Hills, a 10-minute drive from Citi Field. She's a Mets fan -- her favorite player is two-time Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom. She plays other positions, like outfield, but she's mostly played his position, pitcher, since the very beginning of her career.

Brown Athletics

Pichardo attended the small, independent Garden School in Queens. So small that it didn't really have enough kids for a baseball team. So, the gifted teenager played mostly in a travel league out of Long Island. Her dad documented many of her games on YouTube, but Pichardo says some of her favorite memories were a walk-off hit as a 16-year-old and a seven-inning no-hitter at the age of 14. It was during this time when her name really started surfacing in the hardball world.

"Fourteen strikeouts at 14," Pichardo recalled. "That stands out to me."

During those years, Pichardo was the only girl out on the field. Although she says she didn't get too much backlash (at least to her face), it was difficult. There were still whispers and the feeling that, as she got older, she'd have to give up the sport she loved. A girl playing baseball in high school? In college? It wasn't possible, was it?

"Throughout my whole baseball career, every time I progressed to the next level, I'd be told, 'You're not going to be able to compete, you're not going to be able to compete,'" Pichardo told me. "When I got older, people just wanted me to stop even more. But, I'm very stubborn. So, it was like, every time they told me I couldn't, I just told myself, 'Well, now I'm going to because you just told me not to.'"

Pichardo did find a baseball haven in one spot, though: In 2018, she participated in MLB's Breakthrough Series -- a program that showcases girls to national teams and college recruitment programs, while instructing them in skills both on and off the field. She eventually joined up for two more Breakthrough Series and a pro-style workout called MLB GRIT.

"That was my first ever girls' baseball experience," Pichardo said. "That was a surreal experience and it kind of made me a little bit emotional. Seeing all of these girls across the country and abroad. It was really nice to see. A lot of us grew up being the only girls on our baseball teams, so we all had that one shared experience. There was an immediate bond."

She also took the mound for the women's national team during a short series against Canada this past summer. Pichardo struck out five over three innings while giving up two hits and no runs. Her fastball sat in the low 80s.

And then came college baseball.

Although the number of women playing college baseball has grown in recent years, none had ever played at the highest level. At Division I-A.

Pichardo had always dreamed of playing in college, as long as it was also at an academically challenging one. So, after being admitted to Brown this past fall, the righty-throwing, lefty-hitting 18-year-old decided to try out for the Bears' team. Head coach Grant Achilles had heard of her exploits before she even stepped onto the field.

"I initially heard about Olivia during the summer between her junior and senior years," Achilles told me over Zoom. "I saw a lot of the content on social media and her attendance at a lot of the different events we recruit at. While never seeing her in person, seeing her on video gave me a good look at her skillset."

Finally seeing her play in person allowed him and his coaching staff to make the easy decision to put her on the team.

"The thing that stood out was how she prepared," Achilles said. "It looked exactly like what our players would do. That's something that stands out in a walk-on trial for me because it showed the level of talent and the level she had been playing at leading up to that point. Defensively, offensively, she made every play look routine. It was just like working out another talented baseball player."

Photo via Brown Athletics
Photo via Brown Athletics

Achilles says Brown will have many veterans on the team next spring, so like any walk-on freshman, it'll be tough for Pichardo to get into games as a reserve outfielder. But if she earns it, she'll be out there. Either way, getting to this point is big.

"It feels really good," she said. "I like to know that [girls] would dream big and dreaming big would be D-1 baseball. But now that's become more of a tangible goal, instead of just a big dream."

Pichardo tells me she's spent much of this week responding to direct messages on Instagram from girls overjoyed with her groundbreaking achievement. She's trying to get back to every single one. Still, just like three years ago, there is online resentment for her making huge strides in an arena where some don't believe she belongs. The thing is: Those people are still clicking away on their keyboards while the girl from Queens is playing baseball at the game's highest collegiate level.

Pichardo doesn't seem to hold any grudges, though. Three more years from now, after she gets into a game or gets a hit or accomplishes another goal she sets, she'll likely think the same thing she thinks now about those comments from 2019.

"It's funny to me. It's just something I can look back at now and laugh."