When asked about not being able to make the trip to London for the Summer Olympics, Jessica Mendoza didn’t mince words.
“I absolutely hate it,” she said. “It’s horrible sitting in a hotel and watching the Olympics before going out and playing at night. It just leaves me with an eerie feeling that I’m not used to.”
Softball and baseball were banished from the Olympics in 2005.
Instead of an international stage, seven former Olympians, who have won either a gold or silver medal, will travel to Five County Stadium with the USSSA Pride to play the first-year Carolina Diamonds in a National Pro Fastpitch League matchup.
Players like Mendoza and Cat Osterman, who helped popularize the sport, will travel to North Carolina for the first time to help the sport grow.
“We are doing whatever we have to do to play and attract fans to come out and learn more about the game,” Osterman said. “For us, being in a stadium that can hold a large amount of people is exactly where we want to be.”
Two players for the Diamonds have roots in North Carolina.
Brittany McKinney and Danielle Spaulding attended North Carolina and recently signed with the Diamonds. Spaulding is from Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., but McKinney is from Clemmons.
“Being from North Carolina, I’ve gone to see the Mudcats play several times,” McKinney said, referring to the Class A Carolina League baseball team. “So getting the opportunity to play there is almost like playing on the field of dreams for me.”
Without the Olympics, players like Spaulding and McKinney were forced to find another outlet to excel in softball.
McKinney said she felt cheated out of a chance to compete in London.
“I’m definitely bitter and angry about the whole thing,” she said. “It also gives fuel to the fire because we know how much talent we have in this league.”
The teams will play at 7:15 p.m. Thursday and Friday in Zebulon and will continue the four-game series at CMC Northeast Stadium in Kannapolis.
As for the games at Five County Stadium, Spaulding said she has high expectations.
“We’re still a new league that is trying to take off,” Spaulding said. “We don’t really want to be compared to baseball, but we hope that the atmosphere will help fans understand what we’re all about.”