Thomas Hsieh pitches questions to softball’s Ashley Sloan ‘10. The outfielder earned first team All-Ivy honors in her freshman season.
TH: So after three long years of servitude to the News, my time here is finally coming to an end. And now, you’re the subject of my last interview, my last article. What do you have to say to that?
AS: I actually didn’t know that you were a senior and knowing that now, I kind of was nervous coming into this because I really want this to be worth writing about. I was like, “Oh no, not me!” I’m very humbled by it. I feel honored. Thank you. Thank you very much.
TH: Thank you for agreeing to do this. Let’s get this retirement lap underway. Tell me about what it’s like living in Elk Grove Village, Ill.
AS: It’s kind of a small town. When I tell people about it, they don’t really know what I’m talking about, so I usually just say Chicago, a northwest suburb, like most people from Illinois say. There’s not a whole lot to do but going into the city is fun. It’s relatively close. It’s a nice place to live and a good place to raise a family I suppose.
TH: Do you have a lot of elks there?
AS: Actually yes. They’re fenced in but yeah we do. It’s kind of corny. We do have a forest preserve with elks.
TH: And you all had a 50th anniversary celebration two years ago in 2006?
AS: For Elk Grove? Umm …
TH: I Wikipediad it. It’s a trustworthy online source.
AS: [laughs] Yeah, I guess we did. I actually didn’t know that we did. I don’t really know what to say about that.
TH: Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha and lead singer Billy Corgan also hail from Elk Grove Village. Is everyone there a Smashing Pumpkins fan?
AS: Actually one of the members of that group went to my junior high. It’s sort of my claim to fame. Yeah, there are a lot. I mean I don’t even know if a lot of people even know that they’re from the area, but there are some that do. It’s come up a couple times in conversation.
TH: When did you start playing softball?
AS: I started softball when I was nine or 10, baseball for a couple years before that. Now that I think about it, I’ve been playing for a while. I usually don’t think about that. Wow, that’s weird.
TH: What is the best prank you’ve pulled on a teammate?
AS: Every spring break, we go to Florida and each of the classes has its own condo. It’s actually a really nice set-up. It’s tradition to prank the freshmen condo. Every freshmen class kind of knows about the pranks going into Florida, but they don’t really know to lock their windows and stuff. This year, a couple of my teammates boosted me into the bathroom window, and we decorated their condo. We themed each room for a holiday. The living room was all Easter so we had the Easter grass that goes in Easter baskets everywhere. One room was Christmas and we covered the kitchen floor with “snow” using the beans that are in beanbags. It was really bad to clean up.
TH: Do you have any nicknames?
AS: A lot of people call my by my last name. Just Sloan or Sloany. One nickname that has stuck with me since I was little is “Rashy.” It’s something that my dad used to call me when I was younger. It has nothing to do with any sort of medical condition or anything like that. Don’t let your imagination run wild. It’s really just a dumb nickname.
TH: Well, I’m going to give you the opportunity to see if you want switch it up for another one. Would you like either Ashley Sloan-“motion for me” or Ashley “hit the bank and take out that” Sloan?
AS: What? I have never heard either of those. That’s terrible that I’ve never heard them. No comment. I had no idea that those existed.
TH: It’s how I prepared for this interview. I just thought of ridiculous things.
AS: Yeah, I would say don’t get too stuck on those nicknames. Hopefully those don’t follow me everywhere. Probably better than Rashy though, let’s admit it.
TH: What do you think your biggest flaw is? It can be softball-related or not.
AS: I dress like a slob all the time. I wear sweatpants way too much. That’s my flaw. For sure. I used to wear basketball shorts and T-shirts to school. That’s how my friends were too. We didn’t really have anyone to impress. You can ask anyone on my team. I wore them every day for February because we had 6 a.m. practices. I’ll stop talking about that now.
TH: If you took on the Yale baseball team’s bullpen, who could you get a hit off of every single time?
AS: Well, I really like left-handed pitchers but I think I’ll say Rob Gruber [’10 who pitches right-handed]. Yeah, he throws a submarine, and I think I can get a hold of it. I know his secret. He tries to be sneaky, but I’ve got him down.
TH: You bat lefty and you throw right-handed. What is the deal with that?
AS: When I was younger, my dad had me bat both ways in the backyard. We hit together a lot and he simply asked me which side I liked better and I said the left. He was excited to say the least, and so he had me batting that way from the beginning. And I guess I throw righty? Maybe it’s because he gave me a right-hander’s glove when I was younger. I’m not really sure. I don’t know how that happened.
TH: You came in as a freshman and basically were this all-star player. Just to name a few things: first team All-Ivy, second most runs scored in a season in school history with 37, led the Ivies in stolen bases (18) and the list goes on. Did you expect to just jump right in and hit the ground running your first year here?
AS: No, I knew that I had to work for my position because we had an upperclassman who played the same position as I did, which is centerfield. She was a very good player and I knew that whatever I got as far as playing time would have to be earned. I expected it to be a very humbling experience and it was, because we were all very competitive. I didn’t really know what to expect so I came in just ready to compete with my teammates. And you know, in a loving way of course, they’re my teammates but let’s be realistic, you’re competing for positions and everyone felt the same way.
TH: You hit your first home run in your college career this season. What was that feeling like?
AS: When people ask me, not that people ask me all the time but the couple of people that have, I don’t really count it. If they ask me if I had any home runs, I usually say no just because that home run was in the park. I mean I’ll take it, that’s fine with me. One day, I’ll hit it over the fence. Hopefully, that opportunity will show up before I graduate. We’ll see.
TH: So last year, the team finished 21-21 and 6-14 in the Ivies. It’s been a bit of an up and down season. You started off strong but since then it’s been inconsistent. What did you all expect coming into this season?
AS: We saw last season as ground zero and the only way we could go was up. We definitely came into this season with high expectations as far as the Ivy League is concerned and we still do. That doesn’t necessarily mean that we’ve consistently played up to them. I think everyone feels a little bit unsatisfied with how it’s been. It’s one thing if you don’t have a lot of talent and you’re not playing well, but it’s a whole other thing when you know you can beat most of the teams you’re not beating, if not all of the teams you’re not beating.
TH: One of the problems with this season’s squad that has been pointed out especially by the News is the defense. What’s been happening with it? How do you go about improving?
AS: There were a couple of times when our defense was lacking, but most of the time our defense is very consistent. Our defense is our strong point. The things that we have problems with are leaving runners on base and we can’t seem to string hits together sometimes. We need to work on not putting so much pressure on ourselves. There’s no difference between playing in Florida and playing here as far as what’s on the line or as far as what we should think is on the line. Obviously, playing the Ivies counts, but for some reason, sometimes we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to play well when we’re playing other Ivy League teams instead of just relaxing and playing like we know how to play and playing like we did in Florida. There’s really no difference besides the weather. Physically and fundamentally, we’re pretty well-prepared. I think we’re just a little too tense when we play when it counts. We just need to relax.
TH: In high school, your team won four conference championships and three regional titles. Obviously, the win-loss columns here at Yale don’t look quite the same. Has that been surprising for you?
AS: When you make a choice to go to Yale although it’s Division I, sports-wise it’s going to be different from going to a Big Ten school or a school in California and Arizona. We all know that athletes have different priorities here and that’s why all of us are here. I didn’t really know what to expect record-wise or in relation to other Ivy League schools because I had never seen Ivy League schools play before I came here. I expected everybody to just work hard. I expected it to be a relatively hardcore program and it’s definitely proven to be true in that way. I know that we can do a lot better than what our record shows and that is a little bit hard to think about sometimes.
TH: Two weeks ago, there was this whole issue of athletes versus non-athletes. Even though I think that almost everything that can be said from the athletes in their defense has been said, but I think that the issue brings up a lot of interesting questions about the athlete culture here at Yale. Would you call yourself more of a Yale athlete or a Yale student?
AS: I feel like you have to be able to differentiate between your two lives here as an athlete and as a student. It’s hard to do well if you’re just constantly considering yourself one way or the other. So when I’m at practice, I’m an athlete and I forget about school. I forget about work and problem sets. I just try to leave that behind at Payne Whitney when I get on the bus to go to games. Then when I’m back in my room and doing homework, I consider myself a student.
TH: One of the most prominent stereotypes about athletes at Yale is that athletes take mostly gut courses. Do you think that there is this culture of academics being less important than athletics among athletes?
AS: I don’t think it’s true that athletes take easy classes because being a student is less important than being an athlete. It’s definitely true that there’s kind of a network of athletes that give each other ideas of what to take and what not to take if they’re looking for a fifth class. But along with a lot of the gut classes, athletes take classes like everybody else. Even on my own team, we have girls in physics and chemistry and all those very time-consuming classes with labs. We have seniors stressing over senior papers like anybody else. I definitely don’t think that it’s true that athletes only take easy schedules. They have full schedules like everybody else and you know, one semester you might take a bunch of classes that are a little bit easier or a bunch of classes that aren’t. Sometimes when you walk into a classroom you know what type of class it’s going to be, based on, from what I’ve heard, how many Yale hats you see or blue sweats or whatever. It’s definitely a stereotype that exists and in a lot of cases, it’s true that there are some classes that have a lot of athletes because it’s an easier class. I don’t think that should take away from the fact that athletes work hard like anybody else and that they take classes with everybody else too.
TH: Why do you think that distinction exists though? You hear people say, “Oh, I’m in the class with all athletes,” but not, “Oh, I’m in the class with all a cappella people.”
AS: I don’t know. Maybe it’s especially at Yale, but I think that everywhere, if you look at an athlete or someone who’s been recruited, the first thing you think of is probably not that they’re really intelligent or hard-working academically. I wish that people saw that once we’re in classrooms, everybody is a student and that there shouldn’t be any distinctions between athletes or non-athletes or people in a cappella groups or people not in a cappella groups. I feel like most of us see ourselves as students when we’re in class. I don’t know why it exists. Maybe people don’t know that by choosing Yale, you’re choosing your role as a student first before as an athlete. Maybe people don’t realize that there are a lot of other places that some of us could be that are not Yale and where our number one role would probably be an athlete. It’s a choice that people who go to Yale make. We choose to be students and to eventually have jobs and athletics come second or third as far as our priorities go. Hopefully, it’s something that people will get over. We all get in here different ways. Everybody has different things on their transcripts as far as what you were involved in, but once we’re here, we’re all here. We’re all students. It’s a level playing ground.
TH: But obviously, there’s still this gap or at least this perceived gap. What do you think can be done to address it?
AS: I know! Everybody keeps talking about the gap — the cultural gap. I feel like people should talk more about it with each other. If you have a set view on someone because they’re an athlete or whatever, maybe ask them questions about it and find out more about that person. I honestly didn’t see any sort of cultural gap before the Ned Fulmer article, but if people think that there is one, I feel like the only way that we could possibly make it smaller would be to just open our eyes to each other and to each others’ lives. And that goes both ways. People who aren’t in athletics don’t always have their face in a book. You just have to be more open-minded. This is Yale. You cant come here and be completely closed minded because everybody here is so different. People just have to remember what it’s about and why there are so many international students, why there are athletes, why there are people who don’t play sports but who play an instrument or do both. It’s kind of silly to have a set view on a group of people when everybody is so different.
TH: As is tradition with the final question of interviews in my “Two Cents” section, here is your soapbox from which you get to give your own final thoughts.
AS: I think one thing that I like to talk about and one of the things that I like most about being an athlete is that my team gets along really, really well. I only mention this because sometimes people ask questions if we ever hang out without one another. Literally, the whole team hangs out together. It’s kind of an automatic thing, and I know that a lot of people have mentioned it to some of us. If they see one of us, they’re like, “Where’s the rest of your team?” We really care about each other and we’re each other’s best friends. That’s just something that’s really important to me here and if things were different, I definitely wouldn’t have enjoyed being an athlete as much as I do.
[Text message 30 minutes later]
AS: So I thought of my three biggest flaws in a nutshell: I laugh at my own jokes, I use movie quotes frequently in regular conversation and I wear sweatpants way too much. I always think of things after the fact