Hannah Flippen poses for a photo at the Team USA Tokyo Olympics shoot.
Hannah Flippen deferred credit when pressed about her de facto hosting role at the latest stop on the U.S. softball team’s Stand Beside Her Tour.
Yes, the Chula Vista Training Center in her native San Diego’s largest suburb is propping up the Southern California leg. But the team’s means of gelling on and off the diamond tend to transcend geography. Uno and Catchphrase card decks can go anywhere.
“I don’t think our location is dependent on who’s in the driver’s seat or who can lead the team best or not,” the infielder insisted Tuesday, the first of five full days between games.
That said, “I am super proud of the city that I grew up in, and just to take ownership of how beautiful the weather is.”
Much to her gratitude, that aspect has upheld its end of the bargain. In that sense, it is a long-awaited make-up for the first, but not last, disruptor the last time Team USA softball took SoCal.
The team got halfway through its leg there in 2020 proper, working in a March 8 doubleheader in Irvine against California State San Marcos and the University of California-San Diego.
Incidentally, that was a day worth building on for the local stars. Flippen went 3-for-3 with an RBI double and scored a run against San Marcos. Catcher Taylor Edwards, whose hometown of Murrieta is midway between Los Angeles and San Diego, belted a grand slam against UCSD.
Then rain cancelled the March 10 follow-up in suburban San Diego. The next day life as America and much of the world knew it changed indefinitely, and the pandemic preempted an autograph session. Another 28 days’ worth of Olympic tune-up games in 15 other states plus Northern California were subsequently scrubbed out.
The events preceding the protracted hiatus were not a total loss. Flippen got to host her teammates for a bonfire and dips in the pool outside her house last March. But it took 14 months to get competition back, last week when the U.S. scrimmaged the University of San Diego.
For Flippen and Edwards, especially, this meant donning their national team threads for a game right before a selective crowd of close family. They made a point of savoring that, as this summer’s COVID-induced closed set will keep the cheering section stateside.
“We don’t know when we’re going to get the next opportunity to do that,” said Flippen.
Nor do her teammates, even those hailing from two hours north around Greater L.A., know when they might soak in San Diego like this again. So despite her downplaying, Flippen is the natural resident guru on the city’s points of interest.
“Everyone wants to know where the best Mexican food is, obviously,” she said. In addition, she has a bounty of beaches to tout, and everyone hopes to attend a Padres game.
A disappointing omission for Edwards will be the San Diego Zoo, one of the world’s most celebrated institutes of its kind. As an aspiring zoologist who has previously capitalized on the park’s hour-long distance from Murrieta, Edwards said she likens it to “my sanctuary.”
Alas, COVID restrictions have rendered it off limits for this tour. Otherwise, “I would be there every off day if we could.”
But to call the alternative a consolation prize would be an understatement. Edwards is spending most of this week’s downtime with her family. Meanwhile she empathizes with the geographic outsiders within her athletic family, and lauds Flippen’s family for their accommodation 15 minutes away from Chula Vista.
“For girls who aren’t from here,” Edwards said, “it can get lonely, but Flip helps out.”
The Flippen household is reprising its open-door policy for her teammates. The backyard pool and bonfires punctuate the Stand Beside Her Tour reboot’s picking-up-where-we-left-off symbolism.
“You get to feel that home feeling,” said Edwards, “so that’s pretty awesome.”
Literal or figurative, hospitality is another principle that transcends all settings for this team. With three regulars sitting the SoCal leg out, Flippen, Edwards, and Bay Area pitching product Keilani Ricketts have seen more action of late. As replacement players, they take what they can get and defer the rest of the gratification.
“When you root for someone else’s success, you’re rooting for the team’s success,” said Flippen. “The more we share, the more we’ll be successful as a team.”
In return, the regulars make them feel nothing like outsiders wherever they go. Even if and when they are in Japan, staying in hotels rather than the Olympic Village and watching from the stands as opposed to the dugout.
“Everybody else on the team makes us feel like one of 18, not one of 15,” said Edwards.