‘Like I’m back home’: Three Bulls play for Puerto Rico in preseason match

Bulls shortstop and Puerto Rican national team member Kathy Garcia-Soto recorded one hit in four at-bats on Monday. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

As a member of both the USF and Puerto Rican national softball teams, sophomore shortstop Kathy Garcia-Soto said the decision of which side she would play for in Monday’s game was a difficult one.

“I was like, ‘Hey, coach. So what’s the plan for when Puerto Rico comes? Who am I playing with?’” she said.

With a week left before the Bulls’ exhibition game against the Puerto Rican national team, she was still undecided.

However, after talking with Bulls coach Ken Ericksen, she felt supported to switch teams. Ericksen coached the USA Softball Women’s National Team, which won a silver medal in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.

Related: YouTube: Three Bulls play for Puerto Rico in preseason match

When USF would face Puerto Rico, she knew she had to represent the small Caribbean island. Her mother played for the Puerto Rican national team.

Garcia-Soto was one of three players with USF ties who played for Puerto Rico during the exhibition on Monday, in which South Florida lost 3-1.

Puerto Rico struck first with a run at the top of the opening inning. The Bulls responded with a run in the bottom half.

While the scrimmage was hosted in Tampa, the atmosphere suggested otherwise. Many fans brought their own Puerto Rican flags. When the Puerto Rican national team scored in the second inning, the crowd erupted into produced a thunderous celebration.

Bulls assistant coach Karla Claudio Rivera is the team captain of Puerto Rico’s national team. She finished the match with two hits in three at-bats.

She said Florida has a large Puerto Rican community and it showed in the turnout for the game.

The announced attendance was 1,637.

“We’re loud,” Claudio Rivera said. “We’re energetic. And as you guys can see, we like to win.”

Despite the fun atmosphere, there was still a level of competitiveness shown by both teams. Neither team allowed a run for five consecutive innings.

As their coach, Claudio Rivera said she was proud of the Bulls for showing grit during the game.

“It was competitive…they were very intentional tonight and came out to play and I love it,” she said. “That’s something I want to see out of them every game, especially in the spring.”

Puerto Rico would score a run in the eighth inning to seal the victory.

When USF softball starts its season in the spring, Claudio Rivera said she hopes to see a similar turnout.

“I need this support during the spring. I would love for [fans] to come out and pack the stadium just like they did tonight,” Claudio Rivera said.

One attendee said he shared pride in both his country and his family. John Martinez watched his cousin, Bulls sophomore catcher Camille Ortiz-Martinez, dawn the blue and red jersey of Puerto Rico.

When John Martinez was a kid, his cousin asked him to come to her games. He couldn’t because they lived so far away.

Martinez was born in Florida but Ortiz-Martinez was born and raised in Puerto Rico. She moved to attend USF last year. Ortiz-Martinez said it was a ‘special’ experience to have her cousin in attendance in combination with the energetic crowd.

Martinez said it was cathartic to see his cousin represent their island in person. 

“It’s nice to see her play. It makes me feel like I’m back home,” he said.

Correction: Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory. A previous version of this story stated otherwise.