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EDI a golden opportunity for softball players

Olympians instruct young athletes at inaugural event
MLB.com @Shannon__Ford

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Tales of pranks, culture shock, on-field heartbreak and the indescribable feeling of winning gold highlighted the stories that streamed from former Olympians coaching at the inaugural Softball Elite Development Invitational.

Collectively, Jennie Finch, Crystl Bustos, Alicia Hollowell, Jenny Topping and Lauren Lappin hold five gold medals and three silver medals across the 2000 Sydney Summer Olympic Games, 2004 in Athens and 2008 in Beijing

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Tales of pranks, culture shock, on-field heartbreak and the indescribable feeling of winning gold highlighted the stories that streamed from former Olympians coaching at the inaugural Softball Elite Development Invitational.

Collectively, Jennie Finch, Crystl Bustos, Alicia Hollowell, Jenny Topping and Lauren Lappin hold five gold medals and three silver medals across the 2000 Sydney Summer Olympic Games, 2004 in Athens and 2008 in Beijing

"My favorite Olympic moment would be up on the gold medal stand," said MLB Youth Softball Ambassador and U.S. gold and silver medalist Finch. "You can't top being on that podium with women that I looked up to and just my family being there, it was absolutely incredible seeing our flag raised up, our national anthem play, a dream come true."

It's a moment that few can reflect on first-hand, but that will produce goosebumps for anyone watching from home. Some of those included girls just beginning their softball careers, unaware that they'd one day meet their idols.

"Honestly, it's indescribable, I can't stress and explain how much of a privilege it is to me and all these other girls to work with gold medalists," said shortstop Bryanna Bell, from the Houston Astros RBI.

Video: MLB hosts the first EDI event for girls

The Elite Development Invitational provides an opportunity for girls to learn from those who have competed at the highest levels in a week-long program geared toward providing elite training and instruction to amateur softball players in a Spring Training-like environment. The special event includes approximately 85 amateur softball players (18 and under) with diverse backgrounds.

"I never thought that I'd be out here playing with them and getting to learn from them one on one, because I just thought that was a dream," said Compton RBI Pitcher, Diamond Lewis.

Lewis, an elite pitcher in the making, is learning from Finch, one of the greatest pitchers the sport has ever seen.

"She's teaching me everything," Lewis said. "She's teaching me how to push off, how to use my legs, how important it is to stay confident in the circle, how important it is to have a good relationship with your catcher and your teammates, how to block everything and take it step by step and stay in the moment." 

EDI provides a unique opportunity that wasn't available to many of these coaches when they were learning the game. Finch and three-time Olympian Bustos grew up playing baseball with their brothers and idolizing the Dodgers. Little did they know they would become Olympic teammates years later.

"I always learn," said Finch of working with her former teammates. "I love listening to them speak and just how eloquent they are with the game and how passionate they are; it's so fun to be able to get out on the field with them and to share with the future of the game."

The future is bright for everyone in the sport, which is growing rapidly across the country. The 2017 Women's College World Series saw some of its highest ratings in June and softball Olympians will be making a comeback at the 2020 Games in Tokyo, after the International Olympic Committee voted to return softball to the summer games, along with baseball, after a multi-year hiatus.

"For our sport to be reinstated for the 2020 Olympic Games is critical," said Finch.

Learning from teammates, Olympic coaches and other athletes is one of the greatest benefits programs like EDI can provide. The experience of learning from the best and eventually being among the best is not lost on these coaches either.

"You get to have lunch, breakfast, dinner with the world's best athletes, not just your country's athletes but the world's best athletes," said Bustos of her Olympics experience. "Just to be able to mingle with so many great athletes and pick their brains and be around them and see what it is that they do, it's just awesome."

Shannon Ford is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @Shannon__Ford.