On Oct. 4, Olivia Pichardo ’26 walked into the Paul K. Sloan ’97 Football Team Room in the Berylson Family Football Complex for what she thought was a standard hitters and pitchers meeting.
Instead, she was informed that she had made the Brown baseball team after trying out as a walk-on, becoming the first woman ever to earn a spot on a Division I baseball roster.
“I was not expecting that at all,” Pichardo said. “It was a complete surprise.”
The University announced the historic news in a press release on Nov. 21. Pichardo’s accomplishment spread across social media and received coverage by outlets such as ESPN, Sports Illustrated and MLB.com.
“I keep finding out from my friends that I’m on all of these different news channels,” Pichardo said. “I honestly didn’t expect it to blow up this fast and at this level.”
‘I always knew that it was gonna be baseball’
Pichardo’s baseball journey began at age five, when her dad signed her up for the Forest Hills Youth Baseball League in her hometown Queens, N.Y. From there, Pichardo continued playing baseball at higher levels of competition, joining the varsity baseball team at her high school, Garden School, in seventh grade.
Pichardo never seriously considered playing softball instead. “Every time I got to the next level, parents and coaches would just come up to me and ask, ‘oh, when are you going to switch to softball,’ as if it was this … inevitable thing that must happen because of biological differences,” she said. “But I always knew that it was gonna be baseball.”
Pichardo has amassed an extensive resume in recent years. She was invited in 2018, 2019 and 2021 to participate in the MLB Breakthrough Series, a program established for developing and showcasing young players, according to MLB.com. In July 2021, she participated in the New Balance Baseball Future Stars Series National Combine.
She was also a part of the 2019 MLB GRIT Girls Invitational, an event that took place at the old Globe Life Park in Arlington, T.X. before its renovation. “That was (a) very cool experience, to see what the mound feels like,” Pichardo said. “It’s the perfect ratio of clay and silt and dirt.”
In July 2022, Pichardo played with the USA Baseball Women’s National Team as both a pitcher and outfielder in the Friendship Series against Canada in Thunder Bay, Ontario. It was on Team USA that she got to start in the outfield alongside Kelsie Whitmore, one of her longtime idols who recently became the first woman to play in the Atlantic League.
Pichardo also interned in the New York Mets Amateur Scouting Department this past summer, where she got a behind-the-scenes look at player evaluation leading up to the MLB Draft and became familiar with programs like Synergy, a data analysis and visualization tool for baseball.
A lifelong Mets fan, Pichardo threw out a ceremonial first pitch on Women’s Day last August at Citi Field, where she had gone to watch games for years. “I was so nervous,” she recalled. “I was shaking a little bit. (It was) a much bigger crowd than I expected it to be."
If ‘she can ball, we’ll take her’
By the time she was throwing her first pitch from the Citi Field mound, Pichardo had been in contact with Brown’s coaching staff for about a year. After being admitted to Brown last spring, she and Head Coach Grant Achilles engaged in more in-depth conversations before Pichardo went through the walk-on tryout process this fall.
Pichardo’s years of preparation ultimately paid off. In Brown’s press release, Achilles said Pichardo had “put together the most complete walk-on tryout I have seen from a player since becoming a head coach.”
“From the beginning, her poise, her preparation, all the way to her execution … (and) the way she carried herself and communicated, it was impressive for me,” he said in an interview with The Herald.
“I was telling myself all throughout the summer that I was going to make the team. I just kept repeating that in my head, staying optimistic and positive,” Pichardo said. “When I step onto the field, everything just calms down completely.”
Outfielder Derian Morphew ’23 remembers practicing on the field with coaches the morning of Pichardo's tryout. “I was like, ‘Are y’all expecting anyone pretty good?’ and they (said), ‘There’s one player that we can see doing well.”
The rest of her future teammates were first made aware of Pichardo at a meeting called in the press box later that day.
“We were pretty excited … that someone like Liv was able to impress the coaches enough to make it to the roster,” Morphew said.
Other than a few players who had played with women on their team before, “it was kind of completely uncharted territory for all of us,” said infielder Raymond Sass ’23.
It didn’t take long for Pichardo to begin impressing some of the other players.
At an early practice, Morphew asked Pichardo if she wanted to be his throwing partner. “The first thing I noticed was (that) she had a really good arm. The backspin was pure. She could long-toss far. It really impressed me,” he said.
“She really can do it on all sides of the ball,” Sass said. “The one day she threw to live hitters … I got to face her. It’s impressive.”
At her first team practice, an intrasquad game in which pitchers were throwing low-90s fastballs, “the first pitch she saw, she swung at and was on time,” Achilles recalled. “That’s just a microcosm of how she approaches her daily life. … There’s no fear. There’s preparation, and then there’s ‘bring it on.’”
When the news of her making the roster was revealed to Pichardo in the Oct. 4 meeting, she was met with a round of applause from her teammates, as seen in a video released by Brown Athletics.
“They’ve welcomed Olivia,” Achilles said of the other players. “She did everything that she could to earn her spot in their eyes, and that happened because of who she is and the baseball player she is.”
“From the start, we really embraced her,” Morphew said. “Olivia is chasing her dreams, and of course, we wanted to do everything we could to support her (and) help her get better.”
Offering “little tweaks on mechanics or anything like that, as you would do with any other teammate, I think has made her feel like she’s welcome and she belongs on our team,” he added.
If “she can ball, we’ll take her,” Sass said. “If she’s gonna make us better, no questions asked.”
Pichardo tried out as an outfielder, infielder and pitcher. Achilles said that her current position is “slated as a reserve outfielder,” though “a lot of things can change between now” and the start of the season.
On the offensive side, “I’m definitely a ‘finding the gap’ kind of player,” Pichardo said. “I’m not going to be the player whose job is to hit home runs.” She also considers speed “a big part of my game.”
When asked for a Major League Baseball player comparison to Pichardo, Sass offered Cleveland Guardians outfielder Steven Kwan, a “slap-hitting, small ball left-handed hitter (and) good defensive outfielder.”
Pichardo called her style “pretty unique to me,” but noted her admiration for recent New York Mets outfielder Brandon Nimmo, another contact hitter who bats left-handed and throws right-handed. “He’s always hustling down that first base line, … even his home run trots are fast.”
Pichardo will have her first in-game opportunity with the Bears when the team travels over winter break to the Dominican Republic, where her family’s baseball journey began. Her father, a coach on her little league teams, grew up playing street ball with his friends in the D.R. before moving to the United States and settling in the Bronx at age 12. Pichardo’s family will be accompanying her on the team trip.
‘Your life’s about to change’
“I’m definitely trying to be just present in the moment,” Pichardo said, describing her intention to stay locked in as the season approaches amid media coverage of her making the team. “I don’t want to let the moment get too big, because that might be overwhelming.”
“She’s a college (first-year) trying to attain the highest level of amateur baseball at the Division I level and then trying to achieve in the classroom at one of the most challenging academic institutions,” Achilles said. “Liv’s done a great job of just being in that moment, and being able to take a breath and enjoy where she is.”
Pichardo, who is leaning towards a concentration in the business track of economics, achieved a 5.2 GPA in high school while serving as student council president.
“I took a gamble with not playing college baseball. I had other collegiate offers lined up, but I just had to pick Brown,” Pichardo said.
In addition to the usual challenges first-year student-athletes face in learning to balance their schoolwork with sports, Pichardo was not able to set her class schedule around practices at the start of the semester due to her initial status as a walk-on, something coaches and players have helped her navigate.
“That’s one of the most impressive things to me,” Sass said. “She scooters down from class, gets there, gets her work in (and) even stays after some days to hit … making sure that, regardless of her busy school schedule and how it isn’t as cooperative with our baseball schedule, she’s still able to get everything done.”
“I remember … telling her, ‘hey, your life’s about to change,” said Associate Director of Athletics, Strategic Communications and Content Creations Kelvin Queliz.
“It’s great to have this support system around me,” Pichardo remarked. “A few of my teammates have reached out after the news broke and just told me that they’re in my corner no matter (what) anyone online might have" to say.
Pichardo said that being featured on ESPN’s Instagram was a “big wow moment for me,” and she described seeing MLB and the Mets’ social media posts as “surreal.” She also noted her excitement at seeing athletes such as Billie Jean King supporting her online.
Pichardo said she was still searching through her Instagram messages, making sure to get back to each one from someone she followed, whether they were “former teammates” or “younger girls who I know from Baseball for All,” a nonprofit organization dedicated to gender equity in the sport where Pichardo served as a mentor.
Though she recognizes her role as a trailblazer, Pichardo, along with teammates and coaches, was quick to emphasize that she is in this position due to her genuine passion for the game.
“I just have a love for the sport of baseball,” Pichardo said. “Just by me playing baseball, it by default makes me a pioneer whether I want it to or not.”
“It’s definitely a big motivator to work as hard as I can (and) get up in the morning to go lift without a problem, because I know that I’m working towards something,” she added. “It’s motivating … and inspiring for me to know that there are a lot of girls who may be looking up to me because I’m in this position.”
Still, the significance of the achievement is meaningful to Pichardo and those around her. When Pichardo makes her debut for Brown, whether in their season opener on Feb. 24 on the road against Georgia State University, their home opener on March 18 or at a later date, she will be setting a new bar for what is possible for women to achieve in baseball at the collegiate level.
“As a dad of two girls … whether or not they want to pursue baseball, I know they’re gonna have dreams,” Achilles said. “Being a part of someone realizing another dream and attaining another goal, it became even more real for me. I was flooded with emotion for Olivia.”
“Now that I’ve opened this door, these girls know that they can dream bigger and turn some of the dreams that they may have into more tangible goals,” Pichardo reflected. “A dream of mine was to play D1 baseball for a great academic school — and I’m here right now.”