U.S. pitcher Smith enters softball hall of fame

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Two-time Olympic gold medalist Michele
Smith was inducted into the American Softball Association's Hall of Fame in between games at the World Cup of Softball on Saturday.

Smith was presented with a plaque and a wooden Louisville
Slugger bat engraved with her name and her designation as a member
of the hall of fame.

"There's a lot of historic names in USA softball. To join them
is an honor," Smith said.

Smith had a combined 2-2 record and a 0.50 ERA in 41 2/3 innings
at the Atlanta Games in 1996 and the Sydney Games in 2000. The U.S.
won gold at both.

The left-hander retired from the U.S. national team following
its victory in the 2002 World Championships and did not play in the
Athens Games in 2004.

Smith, who is from New Jersey and played in college at Oklahoma
State, said times have changed since she was a child, looking up to
Nolan Ryan.

"I grew up idolizing the men who played baseball, so to see a
lot of these young girls be able to idolize the Jennie Finches, the
Cat Ostermans, and Michele Smith and Lisa Fernandez, you know, it's
great to see," Smith said. "As much as young boys benefit from
having male role models, little girls benefit from having female
role models."

Smith's pitching career was almost over before it began. She
tore the triceps off her pitching arm and broke off part of her
elbow bone in a car accident on July 21, 1986. Exactly 10 years
later, softball debuted at the Atlanta Olympics.

"It was almost like it was meant to happen, meant to challenge
me," Smith said. "You wonder sometimes when things happen to you
in life, why it happened. Once you get through it, you look back on
it and you realize that maybe there was some greater meaning going
to happen down the road.

"I definitely feel like that was a big part of my career
because I can look at kids that have been injured now and say,
'Just don't give up.' "

At Oklahoma State, Smith set a school record for wins by
compiling an 82-20 record while striking out 600. She also was a
career .343 hitter with 15 home runs.

Now a commentator for ESPN, Smith remembers the Olympics fondly,
and during a speech encouraged fans to do all they can to encourage
the International Olympic Committee to reinstate the sport for the
2016 Games.

But for Smith, softball is about more than the Olympics.

"There were a lot of games that we played before we were even
in the '96 Olympics. When you have a passion for this sport, it
does reach beyond the Olympic Games," Smith said. "The Olympics
just give it credibility."

Three other members of the 1996 U.S. Olympic team -- Dot
Richardson, Michele Granger and Sheila Douty -- will be inducted at
a ceremony in November, along with former Alaska ASA coordinator
Pat Lillian, umpires Ralph Miller and Norm Davis, longtime manager
Don Brewer and Avon Meacham, the MVP of the 1994 ASA Men's Major
Fast Pitch National Championship.

Smith was inducted early because of a conflict with the
ceremony. She plans to play for her professional fast pitch team in
Japan again this fall.