Welcome to part 6 of 30 of my Ramblin’ to Paris series. Check out last week’s piece where I covered the seven Georgia Tech athletes who made to the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. Today’s piece is sponsored by Tech alumni and Travelmation travel agent, Nicolas Santine.
One of the goals of this series is to get face time with some of the past Georgia Tech Olympians. To start making that a reality, I was fortunate enough to chat with an inductee of the 2021 Georgia Tech Sports Hall of Fame class and member of the 2008 Canadian Olympic Softball team, Jen Yee.
Easily one of the best to play in any sport for the Jackets, Jen played for Tech from 2007-2010 and still leads the program in just about every major offensive stat (batting average, slugging percentage, on-base percentage, runs) while earning ACC Player of the Year, ACC Scholar Athlete of the Year, and a first-team All-American nod in 2010.
“She’s argably the best hitter to have ever played here,” said Georgia Tech Head Coach Aileen Morales. “I don’t think anyone will match her numbers let alone how fast she did it in only three seasons...a true student of the game and I don’t recall anyone matching her work ethic to date.”
On those numbers, Yee’s 2010 season is in the running for greatest individual season by any Tech athlete. She hit .568 (4th best in NCAA history) with a 1.270 slugging percentage (BEST in NCAA history) and a .732 on-base percentage (3rd best in NCAA history). She scored 93 runs (4th best in NCAA history), walked 88 times (5th best in NCAA history, including 31 intentional walks, MOST in NCAA history) reached 188 total bases (8th in NCAA history), and hit 29 home runs (T-18th in NCAA history). All are still single season Georgia Tech program records.
On top of that, she had a stretch of eight consecutive walks over two days, including five in one game.
This interview covers mainly her time in Beijing, some memories from Georgia Tech, and thoughts on the current state of college softball.
The edited transcript is below, or you can listen to the complete interview on the Scions of the Southland podcast feed wherever you get your podcasts. The YouTube link will be posted below the article when that gets uploaded.
Jack: When was the first time you heard of Georgia Tech?
Jen: Maybe when I was being recruited? [laughs]. Maybe it’s my freshman year because I was a transfer. I spent my freshman year at Niagara University, a small D1. My roomates boyfriend was a Yellow Jackets fan, he wore that hat and I was like, “what’s that?” Being Canadian, we’re very sheltered from college sports.
Coming from Niagara Falls and playing in the cold for a season, my next move I knew I had to go somewhere warmer!
Jack: Do you remember any of your recruitment? How did Tech find you? Did you find Tech or did Tech find you?
Jen: Good question. I don’t remember the specifics, but I knew I wanted to transfer out of Niagara after my first year because I wanted to pursue engineering. It was a small liberal arts college and there wasn’t a chance that I was going to make it to a larger school straight out of high school. So, maybe a little bit of both. My stats had accumulated for my freshman year and it was still Division 1.
Jack: The 2008 Beijing games were the last ones to have baseball and softball until the 2021 Tokyo games. Canada had qualified through the 2006 World Championships, and then you made your debut during the 2007 PanAm Games, am I correct here?
Jen: I remember watching this on TV actually. They had qualified for the Olympic and I was at home. I had not made the team prior to that. And 2007, no, I didn’t make it to the PanAms. That summer was a weird summer where they had selected three different teams, one for each event. Of course there was overlap for some players, especially the older veterans. I got selected for the tertiary summer, university games thing. So that was my first exposure to the national team. 2008 was my first year legit making the senior team.
Jack: How does one make the Canadian National Team? I assume they have some sort of player pool, and then they can scout from there?
Jen: It depends on the country, of course. In Canada, the number of poeple who play softball at a high level is much smaller than in the U.S. Back in the day what they would do is go to the major cities in Canada, usually Vancouver and Toronto, and there were flyers at the sofball field like, “Come try out for the national team! Come pay your $50.” They give you a t-shirt for the whole weekend and it’s like, “show yourself.” And you get lots of people coming out of the woodwork because at this time the Olympics were very visible at this point and everyone wanted to do that. So that’s how I started in junior high school. My mom would pay the $50 for me and I would show up at these tryouts. It’s very stressful actually because a lot of the people are older.
Jack: I can only imagine! Thinking of the U.S. team, it would be crazy if Cat Osterman showed up.
I gotta ask about the opening ceremony: I remember seeing how insane the birds nest stadium was and how memorable the ceremony was. A) were you in the parade of nations? B) How much of the event as an athlete do you get to see?
Jen: First question: yes I was in the parade of nations. Second question: No, I didn’t see anything! They gave us a DVD afterward. There was a good expression by our mentor to prep us for what to expect at the games, and the expression was, “the Opening Ceremonies are about you, not for you.” You are the show, the TV is panned to your country as you’re being announced. We did not see the show or the drummers.
Jack: When you watched it back, were you able to spot yourself when Canada walked out?
Jen: I think so. My friend who I was watching with was very strategic about it. There were some guys in front of us who wore turbans as a means to be noticed. So we were like, “If we walk near the turban guys, then by association we’ll be on camera too.” I think we got like, a third of a second of fame.
Jack: I remember the ceremony was 8/8/08, and the [softball] tournament didn’t start until the 12th. In this four day gap, do you practice?
Jen: You’re allotted a certain number of practice sessions to use the field because you want to get used to how it’s shaped.
Jack: Olympic Village, I’m curious, did you ever live in the North Ave Apartments?
Jen: No, I lived in ULC.
Jack: Darn, because then you could’ve been one of the only people to have gone from living in an active Olympic Village to living in a former one.
Let’s talk about the actual games themselves. Everyone got seven group play games. Did you feel a difference when you were playing in those games versus other international games? I assume it feels much different from college games. Did that feel different to you?
Jen: Right, so yes and no. One, I was very young and very new. It’s not like I had much experience playing international softball. The youthful exuberance and ignorance definitely got to me and honestly to my benefit. The less you know, the ignorance is bliss kind of thing. That being said, you realize it’s the Olympics. I might or might not have been aware that this was the last time softball was going to be included, so the pressure and the magnitude of the game itself is amped for sure. There’s more people in the stands than you’ve ever seen, you realize it’s very, very important. Usually I’m pretty chill during games, but I distinctly remember my first at bat against Chinese Tapei, and my legs were shaking. That never happens. Eventually you settle in.
Jack: The only boxscores I could find were on Wikipedia, and it’s just the basic stats. But it does list your name in the game against China. Tell me if I’m wrong, but you had the only run in the game, the home run in the 6th inning?
Jen: Did they call it a home run?
Jack: It’s listed as a home run for Canada in this boxscore. Was it not a home run?
Jen: The outfielder was backed all the way up to the fence and I think she hit the fence and the ball bounced out of her glove. It could’ve gone either way as an error or a hit. If they called it a home run, good on me, it was an inside-the-park home run then!
Jack: A crucial one, there were only five hits in the whole game. Was there anything extra special about it that you beat China in China during a Chinese Olympics? Did it matter at all in the moment?
Jen: Surely. I remember there was a pre-tournament to the big tournament hosted, somewhere, maybe it was the same venue. I remember them bussing in fans, artificially amplifying the scene. Of course, no one’s cheering for you in China when you’re playing China. Things like that are really fun to think about and look back on. It was satisyfing.
Jack: After y’all were done playing, did you do any traveling or was it a bolt back home situation?
Jen: So softball back then spanned the whole games. So, regardless what you did, everyone just booked a flight after the Closing Ceremonies. Whenever you were eliminated, you had time to relax. You go to all the parties and you go out. There’s not much travelling, I didn’t even think to do that at the time. In our case, the Canadian Olympic Committee booked all of these flights, so it’s not like we had a choice.
Jack: Did you get to go to the Closing Ceremonies?
Jen: I did. All I remember was that Leona Lewis was there, and she was on this pedestal thing. It was hard to hear. The Opening Ceremonies were much better.
Jack: The games run into when classes usually start at Tech...
Jen: Yeah, I was late.
Jack: Ok, so it was still around that mid-August start time. Did you have to tell the Provost, “Hey, I’m going to be late, I’m at the Olympics”? That seems like such a unique problem that Tech usually doesn’t run into.
Jen: In my first two years, I was actually 0-2 for being on time for school, so I never really got to experience move-in day. It is awkward. You show up to class and you don’t really know anyone and you have to bum notes off of people and I feel bad because I’m not lazy, I just wasn’t here!
Jack: So you’re playing international softball at a young, young age before most of your Tech career happens. Does playing those Olympics help you at all in making the college games easier?
Jen: I think it really became apparent post-Beijing. Because yes, I had some experience leading up to that, but you reach the pinnacle and then you come down to ACC softball or midweek games, and it’s not even close. So I guess I had two years of college softball left. 2009 was kind of a recalibration of “what am I doing?” It sounds bad, but it was kind of a write off. 2010 was an ephiphany or a feeling of, “well, damn, this year is bonus. So I’m going to throw everything out the window and swing out of my shoes every single time. Whatever happens is going to happen.”
Serendipitously, I had a really good year and I really think it’s because I removed all those mental blockers of being worried about whatever I was being worried about and just swinging for the moon and good things happened.
Jack: You’re out on the west coast, and we have Stanford and Cal joining the conference for the 2025 season. Syracuse will be going from the top right of the country to the bottom left...do you have any insight as a student athlete on how the travel affects you to travel that far for a few games?
Jen: It kills you! There’s no nice way to put it. As I was seeing these conference realignments happening all over the place, it made me sad. It takes away the student-athlete part out of the equation. All you can really care about is sports. There’s no more energy for anything else. I would be destroyed after doing a Vegas tournament or Palm Springs just one time. Your body is not built to perform if you’re doing that crazy travel. Like, at Georgia Tech, we’re making engineers here, this isn’t easy even if you don’t move from Atlanta. So to ask people to fly cross country multiple times per year and continue to keep their grades up is a little bit unreasonable, honestly.
Jack: You get inducted into the Georgia Tech Sports Hall of Fame in 2021, what sticks out about your time at Tech the most this point?
Jen: Coming from Canada and not really knowing what college sports could be, or even knowing what a large campus could look like. My first experience walking on campus is vivid in my mind because everything was new. I didn’t realize life could be like this. My only exposure to a “big school” was when I was at Niagara we would play an away game at Syracuse. The grass was so plush and green and it was cut and flat. I was like, “you can play softball on flat grass?” I had no concept of this. But then you go to Georgia Tech, even Georgia, and it’s a stadium. I feel like a freaking queen here! This can’t get any better. To feel like a celebrity because I play softball, that’s so crazy to me. I’m so grateful that America loves sports that even a softball game can be amplified to that status was crazy and awesome to me. I wish Vanouver had some of that, it’s just not part of our culture.
Jack: One last question, I always ask Tech folks about one of their favorites from Tech of a certain category. What is your favorite building on Tech’s campus that isn’t Mewborn Field? I’ll be curious if it even exists because they’ve been knocking down buildings.
Jen: I spent a lot of time in the athletic building.
Jack: Well, that’s coming down soon!
Jen: Maybe that’s due. Some of the academic buildings were just beautiful. I don’t remember what the class was, but you could walk through the courtyard and could sit on this perch and you could see the track.
Jack: Yes, biomedical quad.
Jen: It was so peaceful to me. I remember just sitting there before classes or with a coffee.
NEXT WEEK ON RAMBLIN’ TO PARIS: My Paris travel plan that almost was, but still could be?
Jack Purdy is a non-revenue sports writer and co-host of Scions of the Southland for From the Rumble Seat. He previously served as The Technique’s assistant sports editor before graduating Georgia Tech in 2022. Follow Jack on Twitter @JackNicolaus