Abby Ramirez says softball is an important part of her life but only a small part of her

Ramirez, a Chicago native, retired from professional softball in August. She’s an assistant coach at DePaul.

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Abby Ramirez played professional softball for seven years, including the last four with Athletes Unlimited.

Jade Hewitt/Athletes Unlimited

Sashel Palacios still remembers how she felt when she met Abby Ramirez on the Chicago Bandits’ bus in 2018.

Palacios joined the Bandits of National Pro Fastpitch ahead of the 2018 season and met the team in Mankato, Minnesota. She sat behind the coaches toward the front of the bus and noticed Ramirez’s jovial conversation with teammate Emily Carosone. Palacios remembers peeking over her shoulder and laughing at what they were saying before formally introducing herself.

“She made me feel seen and welcomed, especially going into the pro league where I didn’t know anybody or didn’t feel like I was supposed to be there,” Palacios said.

Ramirez, a Chicago native, retired from professional softball in August after seven years — four years with Athletes Unlimited and three with the Bandits. Once the Bandits and National Pro Fastpitch folded, she initially had some trepidation about joining Athletes Unlimited. She knew it would bother her if she didn’t give the pro ranks a shot. After playing for the Bandits, she was ready to call it quits when Athletes Unlimited called her about joining.

“[Athletes Unlimited] reinspired me because with pros it’s hard because you’re not making enough money to make a living,” Ramirez said. “You’re working two jobs, and then on top of that, you have the training part of it. The last thing I sometimes wanted to do was go and do my own practice because I was really tired. So it was hard, but you’re doing it more for the experience.”

Professional softball was a grind for Ramirez. In Athletes Unlimited, the teams change weekly. One week, you could be playing; the next week, you’re on the bench.

“She never wavered from what she had to do to be prepared, whether she was getting opportunities or not,” Palacios said.

Going through tribulations wasn’t easy for Ramirez. She plays a sport in which you fail more than succeed, and you feel the weight of each at-bat. During her college career at Michigan, Ramirez developed an even-keeled approach. She kept showing up, going through her recovery, hitting and trusting that positive results would follow.

“One thing that has helped me get through struggles was knowing softball is a very small part of me even though it’s a big part of my life,” Ramirez said. “There’s a lot more to me than just softball, so if I can find other ways to define myself other than just a sport, it’s a lot easier to get through struggles on the field.”

Ramirez taught lessons in nearby Rosemont as her main occupation — consistently working from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. — before she embarked on her coaching career as an assistant at DePaul in 2021. Once Ramirez’s coaching career started, Palacios saw her wake up early for meetings, then venture into the city for a recruit before driving back to Rosemont for a game or practice

She found it challenging to find time for herself and wanted to be there for her players to oversee their development.

But to those who played with her, it’s that ability to be attentive to others that makes her endearing.

“She’s someone who you can feel comfortable talking to about something that might be hard,” said Sam Fischer, who played in Athletes Unlimited. “Your conversation stays between the two of you, and she comforts you if you can comfort her.

“She’s that person you could text at 11:30 at night, and you’re like, ‘She should be sleeping,’ but she’s not. She’s wide awake, and she’ll text you back immediately.”

Ramirez almost retired after the 2022 season. She wrestled with the decision. She knew if she were to retire, the decision had to be made before the 2023 season or ‘‘otherwise I was going to keep going forever,” she said. She’s at peace with her career, knowing she’ll still be connected to the game through coaching.

Those close to Ramirez aren’t surprised she went into coaching because of that even-keeled demeanor and the way she teaches the game. Ramirez said her college coach, Carol Hutchins, influenced her in ways that are still felt today. Hutchins retired in 2022 as the winningest coach in softball history with 1,707 victories.

“The standard of excellence that she had,” Ramirez said, “you could take with you in any part of life, and that’s really special. It’s more than just teaching them how to field a ground ball or how to hit different pitches. It’s more about their experience here and the relationships they make here and just the empowerment that [takes place] here is really what fills my cup.’’

On this Friday afternoon, Ramirez sits at her desk with a stack of Nike boxes piled to her left to be distributed to her players. With her career in the rearview, her focus now is locked on her players and making them feel seen.

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