Athletes Unlimited softball signs players to 2-year deals

Sports

Rachel Garcia and Aleshia Ocasio are among 15 players who have signed two-year contracts for Athletes Unlimited softball – the first such deals the league has offered as it moves into its third year.

Athletes Unlimited also has added a softball tournament right after the Women’s College World Series. Athletes Unlimited announced the changes on Tuesday.

Garcia was a two-time USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year at UCLA and a U.S. Olympian who won a silver medal in Tokyo. Athletes Unlimited drafted her last year, but she didn’t play. Now, she’s ready.

”After taking some time following the Olympics, I am excited to begin my professional career with AU next season,” Garcia said in a statement. ”I’ve enjoyed watching several teammates and friends compete in AU, and I look forward to competing on the same field with the best players in the game. AU is growing the game for professional female athletes and I look forward to being a part of something special.”

Ocasio is the reigning Athletes Unlimited champion. The pitcher earned 2,096 points in five weeks of individual competition against 60 of the world’s best players.

Others who have signed two-year deals include last season’s Athletes Unlimited second-place finisher, Amanda Chidester, and third-place finisher Kelsey Stewart. Morgan Zerkle, Gwen Svekis, Amanda Lorenz, Haylie McCleney, Tori Vidales and Caleigh Clifton also are among the two-year signees. Previous deals were all for one season.

Athletes Unlimited will add AUX Softball in 2022. The two-week tournament apart from the regular season will run June 13-26, allowing it to take advantage of the buzz created by the Women’s College World Series. It will feature 42 athletes playing 18 games in a to-be-announced single-city venue.

”I think that you’re going to see Athletes Unlimited always do everything possible to grow the commitment to players, and that goes right along with that thought process,” Athletes Unlimited vice president Cheri Kempf said. ”How can we make players feel more secure in the professional sports space, and how can we continue to grow their opportunities? So the two-year commitment is part of that, as is AUX in softball.”

About a month later, Athletes Unlimited will start its third regular season. Instead of the August/September time slot it had its first two years, the league will return to the Parkway Bank Sports Complex in Rosemont, Illinois, from July 29 to Aug. 28. There will be 60 players. More than half of last year’s players have re-signed, including Carrie Eberle, last year’s rookie of the year and the fourth-place finisher.

Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: twitter.com/CliffBruntAP

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