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.
In addition, the International Olympic Committee is set to vote in September on whether softball will return to the Games in 2020. Any long-term decision that Ricketts would make would surely need to take that into consideration.
Maybe USA Softball is afraid the vote will go against softball. Maybe it wanted to lock up Ricketts before that vote just in case the sport is still out of the Olympics.
I mean, you can understand Team USA wanting to secure Ricketts' future with it. She is as big a star and as big a talent as college softball has produced in several years. She is the centerpiece of the national team for years to come.
And since softball has been out of the Olympics, turnover on Team USA has become an issue. Last year's roster looks very little like this year's. USA Softball simply doesn't have the money anymore to pay players enough to keep them on the team once their college days are done.
USA Softball is taking steps to address that, asking every player on the current roster to commit to play through at least next summer, which is a world championship year.
Only Ricketts was asked to put that commitment — and then some — in writing.
You can't blame Team USA for wanting to keep her around.
But saying the deal was non-negotiable? Refusing to budge when a player who's always been committed to the program asked for a little more time? Then implying that she quit the team?
Error. Error. Error.
And the last of those mistakes could end up being the most costly.
Late Wednesday, Ricketts took to Twitter to reiterate that she did not quit Team USA.
“Just wasn't given the freedom to make a decision that should have been made after the season was over,” she wrote. “I was always committed until the end of the summer, so don't believe everything you hear.”
Clearly, she is unhappy with the way USA Softball handled things.
USA Softball may be as miffed with her as she is with it. The difference is that Team USA needs her way more than she needs it. Without Ricketts, the team isn't as good and the brand isn't as vibrant.
If I'm USA Softball, I start trying to repair this relationship right away.
Team USA may very well win the World Cup of Softball this week — it is still an extremely talented bunch — but one day, the errors that it has made will hurt it unless it rallies and quickly.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at (405) 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.