Monica Abbott to shine this week at Tennessee

Maria M. Cornelius2MCsports

Monica Abbott, one of the most-decorated pitchers in softball history, is now a published author and will return to Tennessee for four days with a schedule packed with book signings and first pitches.

“Rise & Shine: the Monica Abbott Story” was co-written with Debby and Rob Schriver and published by UT Press with an official release May 1. Lady Vols fans can get a signed copy a few days early because Abbott will be in Knoxville this Friday through Monday, April 21-24, with two planned book signings. The book also will be for sale at Lee Stadium all weekend during the Tennessee vs. Florida softball series.

Abbott started playing softball when she was in the fifth grade and continued playing for 27 years in a career that spanned her childhood to college to the pros to the Olympics and international tournaments. Last February, Abbott retired after a career that likely will never be duplicated.

The events this week in Knoxville will both celebrate Abbott’s retirement and her new book, which follows her path from declaring as a fifth-grader that she would play in the Olympics to the lessons she learned along the way. The book emerged from those experiences.

“When I was playing, I went all over the country speaking and doing clinics and teaching young kids,” Abbott said, pointing out that the field of softball doesn’t have a lot of books on the shelves.

“I would share my story, share softball, share pitching,” Abbott said in a phone interview with Knox TN Today from her home state of California before she departed for Tennessee. “How could I share this story on a larger scale? The more opportunities people have to read stories, it can really help change the mind set of these young women.”

Lee Stadium, where the Lady Vols will play Florida in a three-games series while Abbott is in town, often is called the “house that Monica built” because her success catapulted Tennessee from makeshift operations at Tyson Park to its current home off Neyland Drive.

Abbott played at Tennessee from 2004-07 and led the Lady Vols to three consecutive Women’s College World Series appearances in 2005, 2006 and 2007. The new stadium opened in 2008, and Abbott’s No. 7 jersey, which was retired in 2013 – the first Lady Vol softball player to receive that honor – is permanently affixed on an outfield pole.

Her college résumé includes 23 no-hitters, six perfect games, a 189-34 record, 0.79 ERA, 112 shutouts and 2,440 strikeouts, which is still the NCAA punch-out record. For the next 16 years, she fired pitches in professional softball and was a member of the U.S. national team, playing in two Olympics and international events across the globe with four World Champion titles.

Monica Abbott fires a pitch. (USA Softball)

On Friday, Abbott will speak at the luncheon for UT’s Alliance of Women Philanthropists. While it’s not a collection of athletes – although there are some among the UT system membership – Abbott’s messages translate in other arenas.

“I will tell them to continue to build, continue to challenge the people around you,” she said. “When you look at my career, whether it was at Tennessee, overseas or professionally in the United States, it was this process of not only building programs, but building opportunities for others and challenging people to expect and demand more.”

Also on Friday, Abbott will sign books at Union Ave Books in downtown Knoxville from 3-4:30 p.m. On Sunday, fans with tickets for the softball game can walk across the parking lot to the soccer stadium to buy a signed book from 5-6:30 p.m. For those who aren’t local, autographed copies also can be bought here on Abbott’s website.

The full schedule of Abbott’s events, which includes first pitches Friday at UT baseball and Monday at UT softball, is available here.

Monica Abbott pitches during the 2006 Women’s College World Series. (Tennessee Athletics)

Abbott has handled plenty of ceremonial first pitches as a softball player, but the Vols game against Vanderbilt will be her first on a baseball diamond. So, does she throw overhand or in her signature softball style?

“Underhand, of course!” said Abbott, who then pondered doing it both ways. Abbott can spin and change speeds on a softball in ways that perplexed hundreds of batters. If she fires a smaller and heavier baseball in the same fashion, best of luck to the catcher.

Her first pitch at the softball stadium will elicit roars, of course, as a beloved Lady Vol returns home. Abbott’s college coach, Karen Weekly, remains in the home dugout, providing even more familiarity for Abbott.

“I think that’s something that’s really under-looked at, especially at other programs, because there’s tons of great schools and athletes that have played across sports,” Abbott said. “A lot of the head coaches move on. It’s incredible in Tennessee. It shows the history. It shows the tradition and shows the responsibility and accountability that Karen has had over the years in that program. And it translates to the athletes.”

Coach Kellie Harper      (Kate Luffman/Tennessee Athletics)

In basketball news, Kellie Harper had her contract to coach women’s basketball extended through 2027-28 and landed the commitment of two new players.

Harper got the first commitment in the class of 2024 with an elite recruit in Kaniya Boyd, a 5-9 guard from Las Vegas, Nevada. Boyd, a top 30 prospect in the country, can help jump-start Tennessee’s high school recruiting in 2024.

Also, former Farragut High School standout Avery “Ace” Strickland will transfer to Tennessee from Pitt. Strickland, a multi-sport athlete at Farragut – she could have made a case to play college softball, too – will be a sophomore for the Lady Vols this season in 2023-24.

It was a heck of a week for Harper. Abbott will be in town to close it out.

Maria M. Cornelius, a writer/editor at Moxley Carmichael since 2013, started her journalism career at the Knoxville News Sentinel and began writing about the Lady Vols in 1998. In 2016, she published her first book, “The Final Season: The Perseverance of Pat Summitt,” through The University of Tennessee Press.


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