In an alternate reality, one in which softball season wasn’t canceled by COVID-19, former Arizona ace Danielle O’Toole would be back at Hillenbrand Stadium this weekend, toeing the rubber for the Mexican National Team.
Instead, she’s in quarantine in San Diego, obeying California’s stay-at-home order like millions of others during this pandemic.
“I was really looking forward to being in that environment again,” said O’Toole, who pitched at Arizona in 2016 and 2017. “It was one of the best times in my whole life.”
The Bear Down Fiesta, the name of the four-team round-robin that was supposed to take place from March 26-28, would have pitted O’Toole against her former team and been her first appearance at the remodeled Hillenbrand Stadium.
And while the disappointment in her voice is palpable when she talks about the missed opportunity, she is not going to dwell on it.
“I’m not sad about it because I know I’ll get a chance eventually,” she said.
O’Toole is treating her Olympic dream, the one that’s been burning since she first picked up a softball at age 4, the same way.
It’s not over, just on hold until 2021.
“It’s hard because it is disheartening, but it’s what needs to be done to keep not only the athletes but the staff, all the fans, everybody that’s coming, safe because we live in such uncertainty right now,” she said. “So it’s hard to say this, but what’s another year in terms of sports when we’re talking about the health of millions of people?”
An amusing answer considering O’Toole was leaning toward retiring in 2020, with the Olympics being her last hurrah.
But like she said, what’s one more year?
“It being pushed back a year doesn’t affect me at all physically, I’m still gonna do whatever I need to do,” she said. “The only reason I was thinking about not playing after (the Olympics) was for personal stuff. But it is what it is.”
O’Toole can still spin it, that’s for sure. The lanky lefty allowed just one run in 14.1 innings during the Olympic qualifying rounds. She is a key part of a loaded pitching staff that also features former Arizona teammate Taylor McQuillin and ex-ASU ace Dallas Escobedo.
But Team Mexico is more than just a collection of arms.
“We have a great battery,” O’Toole said. “We have Sashel Palacios (the older sister of Arizona catcher Sharlize Palacios) and Brittany Cervantes, and then we have a studded infield. You look at our infield and you’re like, ‘holy crap.’”
Yet, Mexico only ranks fifth in the WBSC world rankings, fourth-worst among the six countries that qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
“I don’t want to say we’re underrated but people kind of gloss over us,” O’Toole said. “It’s a good position to be in. It makes us all want to work a little bit harder.”
In February, Team Mexico went 4-1 in the Puerto Vallarta College Challenge, beating top-ranked Texas, Tennessee, Utah and Colorado State while losing to unranked Ole Miss.
O’Toole admitted it wasn’t Mexico’s best showing, but noted that they were without some of their college players, making it “really hard to judge how we’re doing.”
“We don’t have the opportunity to train together like other teams do, and we don’t have the resources,” said O’Toole, who helps run her team’s website and social media feeds, “but we work together to get it done and appreciate what we do have and the opportunities that are given to us, and we’re still just as good.”
They hoped to prove that in Tokyo this summer, though O’Toole says having to wait another year will only make that moment sweeter.
“The Olympics is one of the most sought-out sporting events in the whole world, so I think Japan will do it right and they will make it one of the best Olympic Games there’s ever been because it’s going to be so waited upon,” she said. “The Olympics has never been postponed and only canceled for the world wars, so this is historic and they’ll want to make it a memorable comeback.
“And I also think that because our sport has been waiting for this moment for so long, so many people will be watching, and so many people will get the opportunity to see just how cool it is on the global stage.”