Not too many NCAA Division I pitchers can boast about having both a .052 ERA & .407 BA with 8 HRs for the season. But then again, Rachel Garcia, is not your average pitcher. In 2019 The Palmdale, Calif. native helped lead her team on the rubber and in the batter’s box to a WCWS Championship, proving to be one of the best two-way players in the game. After getting the call last year to be part of Team USA’s Stand Beside Her Tour, the season came to an unfortunate end due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Amid another stellar season, Garcia made time in her busy schedule to discuss the pandemic, Team USA, her current season and much more..
Take us back to the day/or moment when you were told that the 2020 Olympic Season would be rescheduled…What was your initial reaction?
With all of the uncertainty that was happening at the beginning of the pandemic, it was most certainly bummer, but at the same time, it was the right thing to do. People’s health and safety are the priority. Once they said they would reschedule, it was a relief, followed by tears. You know, it’s a dream. You work hard to get to that pinnacle of your career so while it was delayed, I am happy that I will still get that opportunity to represent our country this coming summer.
What is something you have learned from last year’s uncertainty around the sport?
To not taking anything for granted and that the health and safety of the public is the utmost important. Family is important, so many lives have been lost so it really puts things into perspective.
With the Olympics scheduled for 2021 are you currently working out with the team?
Not currently working out with the team, but if the opportunity arises and there is a chance to play with them, I could possibly do that. I do stay actively engaged with them via zoom meetings depending on my schedule.
How is Team USA different from any other team that you have experienced or been a part of in your career so far?
The difference with playing with Team USA is I am playing with the best of the best, and players who have so much experience and knowledge to give and with me being one of the youngest, I have the unique opportunity to learn and grow from such veterans like Monica Abbott and Cat Osterman.
In 2019, where you helped the Bruins win their first WCWS since nearly a decade, and it was the biggest career year for you as a player. As far as the work, and mental preparedness– what did you do different that year that helped you have a stellar season?
After the year prior, losing to FSU and not making it to the finals, I completely changed my mindset. So, with that loss, I got hungry and trained harder…there were no days off. If I wasn’t working physically, I was working on my mental game. I knew that we would get there again and this time I was going to be prepared for the battle, the heat, the exhaustion. The team as a whole bought into a plan. Pitchers wore heat gear, champ camps. I had to work both fielding and hitting outside of my bullpens. I went home on Tuesdays to work on my hitting and have someone throw live batting practice to me. The 2019 team was special, and it was evident from the day we started practicing that there was no stopping us. We were prepared for the fight and we weren’t going to accept defeat. And this 2021 team is even more special, more talented and more experienced.
Not too many pitchers get the opportunity to help their teams with their bats at an NCAA level like you have. Going back to your club ball days- have you always had success at hitting?
I have always considered myself a two-way player. As I grew up through travel ball and even college, I have always had to prove myself as a hitter and do what I needed to do to get in the lineup until there wasn’t a choice but to put me in the lineup. I welcomed this challenge wherever I played.
In club ball there are some coaches, and teams that have PO’s (pitchers only). Being that you are just as talented with the bat as you are on the rubber, what’s your take/opinion on young girls being PO’s?
Don’t put yourself in a position to be labeled as just a ‘pitcher only.’ You could get to college and your position can change so the more versatile you are, the better your chances are.
Softball has grown over the past years, what’s one of the biggest differences that you notice in club ball today compared to when you played club?
Well, there are definitely a lot more teams out there and organizations have exploded. It’s important to find the right fit for what your goals are. I played for a few teams and ended up with the Corona Angels. This was the absolute best fit for me.
You have recently teamed up with Women’s Sports Foundation can you touch on that and what the partnership entails?
This is the first time a collegiate athlete has joined Women’s Sports Foundation, and it is a work in progress for me. I have never been involved in something like this so I welcome the opportunity to be an advocate and be involved and learn about the growth, potential, and possibilities for girls and women in sports.
It seems as young female athletes have a lot of balancing to do nowadays not just physically but from schoolwork, relationships, dealing with stress, etc. and some of this can affect/take a toll on a player’s mental health. What advice or words do you have to young players dealing with some of these things mentioned above?
There is a lot of pressure to succeed in sports. You want a scholarship, you need good grades, and once you get to the next level, there is even more pressure and it’s a lot. Don’t be afraid to seek out the help you need. Your voice is so important, and you are your own advocate. No one knows themselves better than you. It may be difficult to put yourself out there, but it’s okay. I personally speak to a sports psychiatrist to help balance out the things I can control and things I feel that I may not be able to control in my life.
Can you recall a time in your career where some of the things mentioned above ever affected you mentally or your ability to perform on the field?
My freshman year at UCLA was probably the most difficult and challenging year in my life. I was injured during my last high school game in the CIF Championship. I was supposed to leave to train with the Junior National Team the very next day, but that dream was put on hold. I ended up tearing my ACL and meniscus. I had to have two surgeries over the summer before getting to campus. I struggled with school and had a lot of self-doubt and suffered depression. I spent many hours in the training room rehabbing my injury and I questioned myself physically and mentally. The driving force behind my success was my support system with my family and friends, and the resources available to me at UCLA.
You are back at UCLA to defend the WCWS title and the young talent coming in the program seems promising, how do you think the 2021 team will differ than the 2019 team?
It’s a different year same goal. I believe this 2021 team is even better and more talented. With our experience we gained by winning the National Championship in 2019, you cannot count us out. We know what it takes to get there and I am so excited to finish out my final year and play with this group of women. We are on a mission!
You seem to be a good example of someone that is — living the dream.
The dream…there has been a lot of sacrifices to live this dream. You miss out on a lot of family time which is so important to me, but it has paid off. The game has given me so much and for that I am grateful.
What are your plans after softball?
It is always been my passion to help others and give back in my community. I have an interest in sign language and have taken the courses all through high school and now at UCLA. When softball is over for me, it is my goal to work with special needs children.