Ruby Rojas and the power of softball in Colombia and VenezuelaBy Brian Canever July 15, 2015
“Softball doesn’t owe me anything – I owe everything to softball.”
Those are the words of Ruby Rojas, an Olympian and current head softball coach for Mt. San Antonio College, who did not hesitate when she was given the opportunity to travel to Venezuela and Colombia from June 14 to 26 as a Sports Envoy for the U.S. Department of State SportsUnited division.
Rojas, a member of the first and only Venezuelan team to qualify for the Olympics in 2008, credits softball with building her into the strong woman she is today. In addition to building her confidence, softball provided a ticket to education and a long and successful career that spanned from her time as student-athlete at the University of Virginia to her 15 years on Venezuela’s national team. Her success in softball and contributions to the sport continue today as she works with young players in California.
“Softball literally saved my life,” Rojas says. “The sport has allowed me touch so many different groups of people because it is its own language. It’s helped me give a voice to people without one.”
The trip to Venezuela and Colombia was Rojas’ second experience as a Sports Envoy, after traveling with fellow Olympian and former NCAA Division 1 softball player Jessica Mendoza to Nicaragua in January 2013. The first trip had gone so well the Nicaraguans named an academy in her honor, Academia de Softball Femenino Rubilena Rojas, where Rojas continues to provide equipment and training.
On this occasion, Rojas hosted skills clinics twice a day, starting with a coach’s clinic at the beginning of each week. In Caracas, she was joined by Venezuela national team teammates Yurubi Alicart, Mariangee Bogado, Maria Soto and Geraldine Puerta, who helped her to work with more than 200 girls and coaches. In Colombia, Rojas spent time in Bogota, Medellin and Cali, training approximately 50 girls and coaches in total.
“It was two different realities,” Rojas says. “In Venezuela, softball is a lot more developed. A lot of those girls looked up to my teammates and me because we were their idols from watching us play in the Olympics. In Colombia, the sport isn’t nearly as popular, so the girls didn’t know who I was. They were just excited to see a female play a sport and be successful.”
For Rojas, it was very important to update coaches on techniques and philosophy so they can focus on specific training for girls. Currently, Venezuela has the second-highest total of foreign-born players in Major League Baseball with 65, while Colombia has four. Both countries also have their own professional baseball leagues. No such leagues exist for women’s softball in either country, and many coaches come disproportionally from baseball backgrounds.
“Softball is a much faster game, with shorter distances. We had to update them on skill work and fundamentals. Then the coaches would be able to implement everything with their kids, so that’s how you make sure the lessons stick.”
Even though Rojas’ primary intention in Venezuela and Colombia was to serve as an advocate of softball as a tool for women’s empowerment, she also had the opportunity to impact the lives of boys. In Venezuela, she worked with the men’s junior national softball team. During her last day in Cali, in addition to female softball players, she spent time with young baseball players from the outskirts of the city who live in one of the poorest communities in Colombia.
“These kids didn’t even own shoes, but they’re huge baseball and softball fanatics,” Rojas says. “More than trying to become professional, they use it as a tool to give them something to look forward to and to get them out of violence and drugs.”
With poverty a serious issue affecting many urban communities in Venezuela and Colombia, Rojas believes softball can serve as not only a way out, but also as a way to navigate through life’s difficulties. On the other side, where Rojas herself has emerged, there is strength and hope.
“It was those young girls that made an impact for me. They want to use the sport to be somebodies. And they got to see the end result of what you can achieve with me standing there in front of them.”