Anna Kimbrell is doing what most people just dream of doing, and she is loving every minute of it.
Kimbrell, 23, who played youth baseball in Rock Hill and Fort Mill, is in Miyazaki, Japan, with the USA Baseball Women’s National Team competing in the WBSC Women’s Baseball World Cup.
Team USA defeated Chinese Taipei 9-0 in Monday’s opener.
This year’s trip to the World Cup marks the fourth time Kimbrell has been on the team. This is her second trip to Japan. The other two events were played in Venezuela and Canada.
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Kimbrell was invited to a one-week development program, along with dozens of other women from around the country. Meanwhile, three other locations around the country held tryouts. From those workouts, 40 players were chosen for a three-day final tryout session. At the end, the team of 20 players was selected.
Kimbrell made the team as a catcher but also will be used as a pitcher.
“I am a pitcher at heart,” Kimbrell said last week, before the team flew to Japan. “However, I made this team as a catcher. I have worked hard over time to become a good catcher.”
College softball in Alabama
Kimbrell started playing baseball at age 8 in the Little League program in Rock Hill. She played in the Dixie Youth program until she was 14. That led to junior varsity and varsity baseball, AAU baseball, and American Legion ball for Post 43 in Fort Mill.
Kimbrell did not play softball until college. Her freshman season was spent at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala. She transferred to the University of Alabama-Birmingham and was a back-up catcher for two years.
During her senior year, she earned the starting catcher spot for the Blazers and was named second team all-conference while leading UAB to its first Conference USA title. The Blazers advanced to the NCAA Super Regionals before losing two games to the Florida Gators.
“That was a great year for our team,” Kimbrell said. “We had a good season, and we were only two wins away from going to the Women’s College World Series.”
Having been on the USA Baseball Women’s National Team in previous seasons, Kimbrell has had a chance to look at this year’s team and project its fortunes at the World Cup.
“I think that this year’s team has a very good chance of winning the World Cup,” Kimbrell said. “We have a veteran pitching staff, we play good defense, and we have some power in our lineup.”
Playing baseball is what she really loves, Kimbrell said, and she has enjoyed being first in a lot of areas.
She was the first girl in South Carolina to play junior varsity and varsity baseball, as well as American Legion baseball. When she played on the Piedmont Patriots in AAU, the team played in a 64-team tournament at Cooperstown, N.Y.. She was the only girl in the entire tournament.
She played high school baseball for the Fort Mill Yellow Jackets in the eighth, ninth, and 10th grades, before playing her final two seasons of high school baseball at Nation Ford.
“Since I started playing in Little League, it has been a learning experience,” Kimbrell said. “As I have moved to higher levels, it has been a real challenge to improve every day.”
When she tried out for the USA Baseball Women’s National Team, Kimbrell found the challenges to be even greater.
“I want to learn, and I want to get better,” Kimbrell said. “I do everything the coaches tell me to. I don’t know any other way to do things.”
Charlotte Knights grounds crew
Kimbrell, who holds an undergraduate degree from UAB in sports and health in society, is employed by a company that plans and builds stadiums.
She has also worked part-time as a member of the Charlotte Knights grounds crew for eight years.
When the Knights were building their stadium in Charlotte, Kimbrell worked with the grounds crew to prepare the playing field.
“That was a real thrill for me,” Kimbrell said. “The head groundskeeper for the Chicago White Sox came down, and I really enjoyed watching the entire process unfold. I was very proud to be a part of it.”
This week, Kimbrell is part of a team playing for a world title and she is having “a blast,” she said.
“I am living dream,” she said, “because I am getting to play baseball every day for three weeks.”
Kimbrell’s mother, Sandra Kimbrell, is in Japan to watch her daughter play. She has been to the World Cup before.
“What a great feeling it is to watch the USA team take the field and know your daughter is out there,” Sandra Kimbrell said. “It does not get much better than that.”