COLUMBIA — In April, Missouri softball player Jenna Marston wasn’t aware the International Baseball Federation’s Women’s World Cup even existed.
But now, she's a member of its 2010 all-tournament team.
Playing for Team USA in the tournament held in Maracay, Venezuela, Marston led her team in batting average (.593) and the tournament in hits (16) and doubles (8).
Marston finished off her strong performance by helping Team USA win the bronze medal Sunday with a victory over Venezuela.
“I got to play and got to meet new people and got a really cool experience traveling,” Marston said.
Missouri’s sophomore shortstop, who played baseball from her preteen years through high school, found out about the event when an organizer contacted Missouri softball coach Ehren Earleywine after a game in April. After tryouts in July and August, Marston made the squad.
According to its website, the IBAF Women’s World Cup was started in 2004. The only other international women’s baseball competition, the Women’s World Series, began in 2001.
With the unique opportunity, Marston had the chance to play baseball with women for the first time. In high school, she played with boys for Principia, where her father was the coach. Marston fit right in on Team USA.
“It was a really cool experience being with great athletes and being with other girls who grew up playing baseball as well,” Marston said.
Playing baseball with girls wasn’t the only new experience for Marston. It was also her first taste of international competition.
“I had never done that before,” Marston said. “You didn’t understand what they were saying to each other. It was almost like a different style of playing the game.”
Team USA faced off against certain opponents multiple times in the tournament, and Marston said anticipating different teams’ styles was important in preparing to play.
“I think you have to know what they like to do,” Marston said. “For instance, Japan likes to bunt so you have to know that, and you have to be ready for that, but I don’t think you can change your game to theirs.”
Earleywine said there are added benefits to international competition apart from getting experience on the field.
“I think it grows you up as a person,” Earleywine said. “When you start going into South America and these other countries, it can really open your mind up.”
Off the field, Marston and her teammates spent most of their time between games in the team hotel, but they did throw some sightseeing into their plans, including spending a day at the beach and going to a mall.
But there were moments when Marston and her teammates were able to connect with the locals. One opportunity came when Team USA played catch with Venezuelan Little Leaguers.
“People down there, they just love baseball,” Marston said. “That was really neat because little kids look up to you because you’re American and you play baseball.”
Just how much Venezuelans love baseball struck Marston when she noticed the packed stands for Team USA’s game against the host country on Aug. 19.
After playing at University Field (capacity 500) her freshman season, Marston now found herself playing in front of 14,501.
“The first time we played Venezuela was the biggest crowd,” Marston said. “It was so loud. It was unbelievable. You wouldn’t ever get to do that in the States, unless you’re a guy.”
The tournament wasn’t all smooth sailing, however. On Aug. 13, a player for Hong Kong was struck by a stray bullet on the field in Caracas, forcing the temporary suspension of the tournament.
Though Team USA was not in Caracas at the time of the shooting, it still brought the threat of violence close to home.
“I think it made everybody aware that something really could happen,” Marston said. “I think everybody knows it, but you don’t really think about it until something actually happens.”
With a trip to a new country and a hot hand at the plate, Marston also used the opportunity to get back to something she loves in baseball: pitching.
Marston went 1-1 with a 1.91 ERA in 11 innings.
“I don’t get to pitch playing softball and that was my favorite part of baseball,” Marston said. “I wanted to pitch.”
The fact Marston found success on the field didn’t surprise Earleywine.
“It says what all of us already know, she’s just a really good athlete,” Earleywine said.
The experience playing in the World Cup comes on the heels of a successful freshman season for Marston. Helping Missouri make its second consecutive College Women’s World Series, Marston racked up 68 hits (second in the Big 12) and a .366 batting average.
“It was a bigger stage that she played on over there,” Earleywine said. “I know that it will really grow her up when she comes back here.”