THUNDER BAY, Ontario -- International competition is nothing new to Sarah Edwards. The former Division I athlete has played for the Italian national softball team and -- along with working as the recruitment manager for Softball Jobs Overseas -- has lined up for teams in New Zealand, Spain, Holland and Switzerland. And yet, at this week's WBSC Women's Baseball World Cup, she's doing something brand new: She's playing baseball.
"This is actually my first year ever playing baseball in my life -- [I played softball for] 20 years," Edwards told MLB.com. "I'm 27 now and I started playing softball when I was 7."
That's right, the softball superstar, who is also a hitting development coach in the Phillies organization -- she is the first woman to coach in the Phillies system -- has only recently added baseball to her repertoire. She only arrived at the USA Baseball tryout camp in June at the behest of her new USWNT teammate and Phillies colleague, Elizabeth Greenwood.
"Having worked this year with the Phillies, and then also submerging myself in the baseball world for the first time, it was definitely something that intrigued me and something that I wanted to see if I could do," Edwards said. "There's definitely some changes between baseball and softball, some adjustments to make. So for me, the motivation was to see if I could do it and also being able to learn how to play baseball, so that I could be a better baseball coach."
Having softball players switch over to baseball isn't new for USA manager Veronica Alvarez. Alvarez, also the the coordinator for player development in Latin America for the Oakland A's, recognizes that many young women may not have had the chance to play baseball and were pushed into softball from an early age. She wants to give them the chance now.
"The majority of our players grew up playing baseball and switched to softball for the opportunity to compete in college and compete for a scholarship," Alvarez said. "And then they came back to baseball."
What she looks for at the USA Baseball tryout camps then isn't a sparkling baseball resume, but rather ballplayers, pure and simple. That led her to calling up Alex Hugo, a star softball player at the University of Georgia and then as a pro for the Akron Racers in the now-defunct National Pro Fastpitch league, in 2018. Hugo struggled in her first tournament with Team USA before going supernova in the 2019 Pan-American Championships where she was named MVP after hitting .652 with four home runs.
"They're not softball players on a baseball field. They're baseball players competing against other baseball players and with other baseball players," Alvarez said. "It's about athleticism, the ability to make adjustments quickly. And I mean, it's really fun to watch them make those adjustments. For Alex Hugo in 2018, it was a hard adjustment at first. But her work ethic and just her dedication to being a really good player and a good athlete proved itself and showed in 2019 and beyond."
That also means Edwards has someone to talk to about the struggles she faces as she switches bat-and-ball sports.
"She and I have actually bonded because I've been in her shoes where you come in and you're like, 'What is this world?'" Hugo said. "And then it's so welcoming. I think the game is essentially the same. It's very competitive. Obviously, there's differences. But I think it's good to to have a fellow softball player transition into the baseball world, because it is such a different world, but in a good way."
It clearly wasn't too difficult: Edwards laced a double in her first competitive at-bat with Team USA in Wednesday's 14-0 victory against Korea. She points out that it was only the hours of hard work that made the difficult appear routine.
"It took me about a year of preparing for this in order to adjust my swing and my approach to the plate," Edwards said. "But after playing 20 years of softball, you kind of get used to it."
Joining the USWNT is just the latest in unexpected developments in Edwards' career. When she finished college, she was originally planning on joining the Marine Corps. She had no idea about the possibilities for continuing her softball career overseas until her coach told her. Presented with the chance to play and coach around the world, it wasn't a hard decision to make.
"When I graduated, I was going to try to [join the Marines] and then I got opportunities to play, and I was like, 'Well, this sounds like more fun,'" joked Edwards, who attended the University of Buffalo and Hofstra University.
After traversing the globe, sharing her wealth of knowledge and playing skills with an appreciative audience -- while also recruiting new players to join her -- Edwards returned to coach with the Phillies even though she originally applied for a different position.
"Imposter syndrome is funny because I definitely feel like that in general as a player as well. Like, how did I possibly get this far in my career?" Edwards said. "So I do kind of feel like that in every walk of life. But when it started clicking for me was just watching it click in my players. If I tell them to do something, or if I put them in a drill, and it's successful and it does actually help them and you see that smile on their face and the relief because they don't want to struggle -- they have a lot on the line -- that feels the best."
Though there are more women in coaching and front office positions than ever before, it can still be a lonely place for women in sports. Edwards has friends who love the sport, but couldn't imagine being in a position in such a male-dominated industry where co-workers and fans online might be skeptical of their skills or dismissive of their abilities every day.
"There's certainly still a little bit of pushback," Edwards said. "But I think the people that have that point of view are people that aren't going to grow with this game and essentially they're pushing themselves out. I think that every woman who gets a job in baseball, she deserves it and she's a badass, like she has that type of personality as well. That's going to allow her to stay in baseball, because whether or not you have the knowledge is one thing, but whether or not you have like that grit and that self-composure, that confidence, that just goes beyond the knowledge itself."
So, did her background as a hitting coach help when she stepped into the box on Wednesday afternoon against Korea? Well, it's a little complicated.
"I think it was a little daunting, the fact that I am a hitting coach. Like, if I can't hit, then what the heck, you know?" Edwards said with a laugh. "So, I do feel like I have a little bit extra to prove there. But I just felt like I was in my element in the box. Whether it's baseball or softball, I've been in that batter's box enough to know who I am as a hitter."