Christie Rampone knows how to handle big moments. The captain of the U.S. women’s soccer team is a three-time Olympic gold medal winner and a World Cup champion. But even the normally calm and confident Rampone had a case of the jitters on Monday night at Yankee Stadium.
The 15-year U.S. team veteran stood in front of the home dugout, wearing her gold medal from the London Games, waiting to take the field to throw out the first pitch before the game against the Toronto Blue Jays.
"This is more pressure than the Olympics," Rampone said. "I'm in control playing soccer. This is out of my league right now."
Rampone and 2002 Olympic figure skating gold medalist Sarah Hughes threw out ceremonial first pitches as part of the "Daughters' Day at Yankee Stadium" initiative to support the Women’s Sports Foundation. During the pregame ceremony, the Yankees Foundation donated $5,000 to support the WSF’s programs that bring sports and activities to underserved girls throughout the New York City area. Former New York Liberty star Kym Hampton performed the National Anthem before a crowd of 42,962.
Daughters' Day began when WSF CEO Kathryn Olson and Yankees senior vice president and assistant general manager Jean Afterman met two years ago. (Afterman now serves on the WSF Board of Trustees.) The women started to brainstorm ideas to work together to spread the message of "keeping her in the game."
"We said we have got to do something at Yankee Stadium," Olson said. "We've got our GoGirlGo! program right here in the Bronx in their backyard. Let's figure out a way to get all this together. It's come to fruition tonight."
Over 150 girls who participate in the "GoGirlGo!" program attended the game and could be seen in bright green shirts in Section 307 just beyond the right field foul pole. A few local girls joined Rampone, Hughes, Hampton, Olson and Afterman on the field before the game, soaking in the atmosphere during Yankees' batting practice. The team also showed video messages featuring ace CC Sabathia and manager Joe Girardi, urging fans to "keep her in the game" and to support the Women's Sports Foundation.
Rampone's gold medal proved to be a huge hit among the girls and Yankee players. All-Star second baseman Robinson Cano even tried it on between swings at the batting cage. The Little League World Series champion team from Japan also visited Yankee Stadium on Monday night and oohed and aahed at Rampone's medal as they asked her to sign their caps. Rampone, a devoted Yankee fan, appreciated the experience.
"This one’s definitely up there," Rampone said. "Being a Yankee fan most of my life and marrying a huge Yankee fan, to be out here seeing the players and how athletic they are taking batting practice it's amazing. It's definitely going to be a memory on the top of the list."
Since she was born just three years after Title IX was passed 40 years ago, Rampone also recognizes the importance of female inspiration for girls in sports.
"Growing up I didn't have a lot of female role models and the Yankees are exceptional role models," Rampone said. "But sometimes [girls] want to look up to a female. Having two daughters of my own -- a 6–year-old and a 2-year-old -- it's really essential that these young girls have that confidence, to be inspired to continue to play sports."
Sarah Hughes can also attest to the positive influence of sports on her entire family. While not all of her five brothers and sisters reached the Olympics, sports provide a common bond, as athletes and fans.
Hughes, who grew up on Long Island in a house filled with Yankees and Mets fans (her brother attended the game wearing his Phil Hughes jersey), looked forward to Monday night for many reasons. She hoped to redeem herself after a less-than-perfect first pitch before a game at old Yankee Stadium 10 years ago upon her return from Salt Lake City as an Olympic champion. More importantly, Hughes sought to spread the message of the Women's Sports Foundation to the fans in attendance.
"I hope that anyone who has a daughter will enroll their daughters in sports and I hope that they'll support their daughters," Hughes said. "The support of family is very important. You don't need to be an Olympic champion. You have me and Christie here who have dedicated our lives to sports, but you don’t need that level of success or dedication to reap the benefits, to have your life enhanced by sports and by what sports offers."