Long before the first pitch of the World Cup of Softball was ever thrown, Team USA committed an error.
Not only did it overplay its hand in an attempt to sign Keilani Ricketts to a long-term contract, but then it went and ticked off the former Oklahoma superstar.
Score that a big-time E.
What was supposed to be a celebration of softball — five of the world's best teams competing this week in Oklahoma City — is instead providing a glimpse inside the harsh realities facing a sport shut out of the Olympics. Financial support from the United States Olympic Committee has been slashed since the Olympics dropped softball, and that has put pressure on the national team and its athletes.
Who knows what ramifications may come?
But here's one we already know: Team USA has created a rift with its biggest star.
Let's start with a quick refresher on the details.
Less than a week after Ricketts and the Sooners won the national championship, USA Softball held a selection camp for its national teams. At the end of the camp when she was selected to the team for the third consecutive summer, USA Softball approached her about signing a four-year deal that would bind her to Team USA and essentially make her the face of the national team.
Team USA wanted an answer before the World Cup.
Ricketts wanted to wait until the summer was over.
She called a USA Softball official on July 3 and asked again to delay the decision. Again, she was told that she needed to make a decision before the World Cup.
This is where the details of the story start to depend on who you ask.
This week, when the U.S. roster was released in anticipation of the start of the World Cup, Ricketts' absence was obvious. Asked about it, USA Softball officials indicated that Ricketts had called and told them that she was leaving the team.
Headlines screamed that she'd quit, that she'd bailed on Team USA.
Ricketts insisted that wasn't the case.
“I just thought that they were going to be able to work with me just because I've been with them the past three years,” she told our gal Rhiannon Walker. “I didn't call them up to tell them that I quit; I just wanted to be able to work with them this summer.
“They told me that the contract was non-negotiable.”
Part of the deal, she has said, was that she couldn't play in National Pro Fastpitch. Her rights are held by the USSSA Pride, a Florida-based team in the summer pro league. Playing in the league wouldn't be a huge payday — the average salary is $5,000 or $6,000 with housing provided — but it would supplement what Ricketts is sure to earn playing overseas and endorsement deals.
But as much as anything, it sounds like Ricketts just wanted a little leeway on her deadline for making this decision. This has been a whirlwind few months for her. A transcendent season. A national title. A bunch of player-of-the-year awards. Waiting until after the summer would give her a chance to thoroughly digest the contract.