New Pro League A Welcome Opportunity For Takeda Reed
The start of the Athletes Unlimited softball season next week will be welcome salve for Janie Takeda Reed.
To this point, 2020 has been a cruel tease for the former Oregon outfielder. She was planning to check a couple items off her softball bucket list this year. But those plans went sideways when the coronavirus pandemic struck.
Reed was in the Seattle airport with the rest of her USA Softball teammates when the pandemic put a halt to sports in mid-March. That was just days before Team USA was scheduled to play two exhibitions in Jane Sanders Stadium, one of those against the Ducks.
Few knew then that the pandemic ultimately also would force the cancellation of the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, where Reed was to participate as a member of Team USA in July.
Had all that gone as planned, Reed said, she'd probably be on a beach in Hawaii right now, recovering from a long spring and summer on the diamond. Instead, she and three other former UO softball players are in Rosemont, Ill., to participate in the inaugural season of the Athletes Unlimited league, which begins play Aug. 29.
"I'm just excited to be on the field again," said the three-time Oregon all-American, who is married to former UO baseball player Jake Reed.
As a freshman with the Ducks in 2012, Reed helped Oregon reach the Women's College World Series for the first time in 23 years. She hit .442 to be named a first-team all-American as a sophomore, and Reed was a second-team all-American while helping the Ducks get back to Oklahoma City as both a junior in 2014 and a senior in 2015.
That timeline meant that Reed missed, by one year, being able to play for Oregon in The Jane, which opened in 2016. She was devastated in March of this year when Team USA arrived in Seattle to begin a series of exhibitions around the Pacific Northwest, then learned the NBA had cancelled its season due to the pandemic. Other dominoes around the sports world quickly fell due to COVID-19.
Given that Seattle saw the worst initial outbreak of the coronavirus in the United States, Team USA didn't linger long. The same day they arrived, Reed was back on a plane and headed out to watch her husband pitch in spring training, heartbroken at having been denied the chance to play at The Jane.
"I cried a little bit when we got sent home; it was so close," Reed said. "I love Eugene. I love coming back to Oregon. My family was going to be there. It was going to be pretty special."
Reed would be denied a special moment on the softball field again this summer, when the Olympics were delayed until 2021. Softball was to make its return to the Games for the first time since 2008, and Reed was going to play for Team USA.
Her first reaction when the Olympics were postponed was measured; OK, Reed thought to herself, we have another year to prepare and improve. But as the summer wore on, disappointment set in.
"It's been a long time coming," said Reed, who has two gold medals from WBSC World Championships competition, and two more from Pan American Games experience. "Not to get that release of, 'OK, we're here, we made it,' was kind of tough."
To the rescue, though, came the Athletes Unlimited season. Reed has only played one season in a professional league prior to this year, due to Team USA commitments. But she jumped at the chance to participate with Athletes Unlimited, which is taking a novel approach to operating a league by redrafting teams each week, and deciding final standings — and final payouts to players — by their individual accomplishments rather than team results.
"I've always thought that softball is an individual team sport," Reed said. "When you're up to bat, you're the only one in the box. There's definitely an individual component to the game already.
"In the sport of softball, trying to figure out how to transcend from college to the pro game has been really sad to watch. You see so many talented players in college, on this huge stage with postseason softball, who then retire at age 22, 23, 24 — and your heart breaks for them not being able to make a career out of it."
Athletes Unlimited is looking to change that. Every game of the monthlong season will be available to watch on platforms produced by ESPN and CBS Sports. Players made a six-week commitment to train and play in the new league, for which they'll each get a minimum of $10,000.
"I've been doing this long enough post-college where, if this is the solution, to make the game more interesting without changing it very much, I'm all for it," Reed said. "If this is the way to give women an opportunity to make a living playing professional softball, I'm all for it."
Come 2021, Reed plans to be back in the red, white and blue of Team USA. Players have been told the roster that was supposed to participate in Tokyo this year will remain intact for 2021. So Reed's Olympic dreams aren't dead, but rather on hold.
"I'm expecting it to happen," she said.
"But," Reed added with a laugh, "if there's one thing I've learned through all this, it's that nothing's certain."