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Amanda Asay, Canada's 'PhD baseball pitcher, was true student of the game

Tributes pour in with news of sudden death of Amanda Asay, one of the most accomplished and groundbreaking athletes in Prince George history

Andre Lachance knew when the going got tough, he could always turn to Amanda Asay – his PhD pitcher – to think of a way to lead the Canadian women’s baseball team to victory.

Whether it was with her bat or her throwing arm, Asay never failed to deliver the goods.

The medals they won together in international tournaments speak volumes about how effective his right-handed chucker from Prince George was in creating the joyful memories that came from winning at the highest levels of the game.

That joy turned to sorrow in the sporting world Friday when Asay died at age 33 after she fell into a tree well while skiing at Whitewater Ski Resort near Nelson.

“She was a great teammate and she made everyone better around her,” said Lachance, who coached Asay with the national team until 2018. “She started as a catcher and moved to first base and then became one of the best pitchers in the world after that. That says a lot about her skills on the baseball field.

“She was always looking for better ways of doing things, always being curious, always looking for ways we could win by getting more information on an opponent. She was a really curious ball player and when you’re curious your innovation and creativity and performance will emerge. The girl has a PhD, and that tells you lot about the fact she likes to think about how to be better as a person and better as an athlete.”

That indomitable will to improve helped Asay excel against the boys in Little League Baseball playing for PG East. Her father George was her house league team coach and she also played for the Prince George Knights rep team, where Randy Young watched her develop playing as a catcher.

“She was very kind and always hard-working, very coachable, just a great kid overall and a great teammate,” said Young. “It’s a sad loss for someone who was so kind and had everything going for her.

“When we were doing blocking drills when she was young, she had no quit. You’re throwing balls at the catcher who is getting beaten up, it’s not a fun drill, but she didn’t care. She just said, ‘Give me more,’ because she always wanted to get better and better. That basically typifies her as a person, an athlete and a student, always striving for better.”

Rainer Lippmann coached Asay with the peewee Knights.

“She was frickin’ tough, and good,” said Lippmann. “We didn’t play any favourites. She earned her spot and she got her spot.”

Asay joined the national team as a 17-year-old in 2005 and was a starter right away, helping Canada win bronze at the first WBSC Women’s Baseball World Cup in Taiwan in 2006. She captured all-tournament honours playing first base and was the team MVP.

Starting out as a catcher, Asay’s broad shoulders and powerful limbs better suited her to pitching and she became the ace of the national team and was always one of the top hitters. Known for her fastball, she added a breaking ball to her pitching arsenal over the years as she developed her elite qualities. In 2016 at the World Cup in South Korea, she pitched a complete-game 2-1 victory over Chinese Taipei to send Canada into the final. Asay helped Canada to the silver medal in 2008 and 2016 and was a bronze medalist in 2006, 2012 and 2018. She also was a huge factor in Canada’s silver medal win at the 2015 Pan-Am Games in Toronto, which marked the first time women’s baseball was part of a major multi-sport event.

Asay played for 15 years on the national team and was a leader on and off the diamond. Lachance, who started the team in 2004, handed over the coaching duties to Aaron Myette in 2018 to become the team’s general manager and Asay was being groomed to become a national team coach. She was six years older than any of her teammates but still had the skills to compete at the world level and was preparing to play in a qualifying tournament this year for the next World Cup.

Her effect on the game as a women’s baseball pioneer and as a role model for young girls playing the game extends well beyond international borders and news of her death prompted tributes to Baseball Canada from Australia, Japan and Cuba.

“I wouldn’t hesitate to call her the greatest player in Canadian women’s baseball history - she’s considered that by many,” said Jim Swanson, who brought the World Baseball Challenge international tournament to Citizen Field and invited Asay to make the ceremonial first pitch for one of the games. “She was with the national team so long, during its formation, and was one of the founders of that from the players’ side.”

Asay’s multi-sport abilities were evident at a young age. She came up through ranks in minor hockey in Prince George and played for the triple-A midget Cougars and in 2005 made the provincial U-18 team. She also won two senior provincial titles with the Kamloops-based BC Outback. As a graduate of College Heights Secondary School, she went to Brown University, an elite Ivy League school in the United States, in 2006 on a combined academic/hockey scholarship.

Asay also found time for softball, playing six years for the Prince George Thunderbirds, and was a walk-on addition to the university softball team at Brown, where she ended up being one of the team’s best players.

“She had a bullet arm and could gun you down from her knees without standing and she was so good at picking off people, and she was our slugger, for sure,” said longtime friend and Thunderbirds teammate Kelsy Hogh. “I’m sure she could have played any sport and been just fine at it. We knew she was going to go places, she was just dedicated. I always bragged about her. I was always proud of her. She was very talented in everything and she had a big heart. She was the ultimate bodyguard and would protect the ones she loved. She was just so good.”

Asay played NCAA softball and hockey for three seasons while earning a bachelor’s degree in science. She transferred to UBC in 2009 and went on to complete a master’s degree in science and a doctorate in forestry, while playing two seasons as a forward with the Thunderbirds hockey team. That UBC connection runs in the family. It’s where her mother Loris studied to be a nurse, her father George earned his high school science/math teaching credentials and and her older brother Brad became a dentist.

“She’s from a great family and was raised with great values and those were the values that were transmitted to the rest of the team,” said Lachance. “When you give her the ball to pitch you have confidence, and you don’t have that vibe with many people. In any type of situation, she could compete, and even if things are more complicated you knew she was going to give everything she’s got.”

In 2017-18, Asay spent six months playing baseball in Australia for the Footscray Bulldogs in a five-team men’s league based in Melbourne. During her summers in Prince George, while she was still in university, Asay found her baseball home at Citizen Field. She frequently came to the ballpark with her dad George to hit batting practice or to keep her pitching arm tuned playing in the Prince George Senior Men’s Baseball League for the Red Sox.

“I always love playing in Prince George and the guys are always great to me and welcoming and it's so nice to know if I am in Prince George I can call up a few guys and find a game,” said Asay, in a May 2019 Citizen article. “Particularly early in my career with the national team, the league helped me a lot. It was a really good level for me to play at with a lot of variety in the pitching. The ball is in play lots in that league and I always enjoy pitching against those guys, some of them I know pretty well.”

Soon as they learned she was back, the Red Sox had Asay penciled in as their starting pitcher for the next game.

“She was just a good person, I think she was one of the most popular players on every team she played on,” said Red Sox captain Paul Wilson. “She just genuinely cared about her teammates and she would always put them before herself. It was a lot of fun being around her.

“She was an amazing athlete and she was so humble. I’d always give kind of give it to her a bit about her being the world’s greatest women’s baseball player and she would always talk about somebody else. She had a very smart baseball mind and I think is she had wanted to, she could have had a career coaching in men’s pro baseball. She would have got people to run through a wall for her.”

Asay worked as a forester for the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resources and Rural Development based in Nelson, where she continued to play hockey this winter.