Olympic and former OSU softball star
Residence: St. Petersburg, Fla.
A two-time Olympic gold medal-winning pitcher, Michele Smith, a New Jersey native, played softball at Oklahoma State, played professionally 16 years in Japan, was inducted into the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame last summer and is an ESPN analyst.
I played the first ever game in (ASA Hall of Fame Stadium) when I was at Oklahoma State. To see how far the sport has come I'm so proud. Softball has grown phenomenally. I've been blessed enough to be in it from the beginning, the middle and now as an analyst when it's really taken off.
I speak Japanese after playing there 16 years. I loved living in Japan. The culture and people are wonderful. I love their work ethic. I got to be on the field six hours a day. For some people they may consider that punishment. I considered it a joy.
The people in Japan are some of the most gracious, caring people. They're basically a nation the size of California but with half the population of the U.S. Because they're so densely populated they're very aware of how they affect other people. Whereas Americans are more inwards focused, they're most outward focused.
My greatest thrill was winning two Olympic two gold medals. Every time you slipped on that red, white and blue jersey it was an honor. To play in the Olympics at the highest level is an honor for any athlete in any sport. But it also meant a lot to win eight Japan League championships. Every one of those was special.
Playing at Oklahoma State I'm very proud of the Cowboy nation. Great people have come out of Oklahoma State to make a difference. T. Boone Pickens, Garth Brooks and former athletes have been phenomenal. It takes a very special person to go to school in Stillwater. When I went there it wasn't a university with all the bells and whistles. It was a blue collar type of town. That's what I loved about it.
The strangest place someone recognized me was in Costa Rica on a bus. I was going zip lining, where you get a hook put around you and you're kind of flying through the forest 50 feet up in the air. A family got on the bus and this high schoolgirl goes, 'Are you Michele Smith?' I was like, 'Oh my gosh I'm in the middle of nowhere, dirt roads, the forest.' It was pretty funny. It was really nice to meet the young lady. She had just blown out her knee. She was very devastated she was going to have to miss a year of softball.
ESPN's coverage has helped women's sports grow. To me that's what's very important. The American public is very schooled on men's team sports. We need to get them more schooled at watching women's team sports. Once people see a fast-pitch softball game they're like, 'Holy cow. This is great. These athletes are phenomenal.'
The exposure on television without a doubt has driven this event (WCWS). I truly give 100 percent credit to the NCAA and ESPN. I've been on the field when we didn't get a lot of TV coverage. When you have only three games a year on TV it's hard to build interest. When you have as many games as they have now, 80 or more games a year, people learn to love the sport.
Life is about relationships. Enjoy what you do. Be passionate about something that really piques your interest and build relationships in that. Today we've become so technology driven, so text message heavy and email heavy that we lose the ability to communicate face to face. The best relationships in life are the ability to look someone in the eye and carry on a conversation instead of a 140 (character) sound bite.