Since graduating from San Benito High in 2016—where she helped lead the Haybalers to a Central Coast Section championship—Suzy Brookshire has gone on to play at three Division I programs, breaking records at each stop.
Despite those lofty accomplishments, they will pale in comparison to her upcoming task: helping the Mexico national softball team compete for a spot in the medal round of the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games.
“Most of the time it doesn’t feel real,” Brookshire said to the Free Lance a day before the team left for Japan. “Maybe it will feel more real when we get there.”
Softball will be one of the few sports that starts play before the opening ceremonies on July 23. Brookshire is a part of history as this is the first time that Mexico is competing in the Olympics in softball. It will open up tournament play against Canada on July 21, followed by a game with host country Japan the next day and a matchup with the gold-medal favorite U.S. squad on the 24th.
“I’m really grateful this is the group I get to be with,” Brookshire said. “I think our main motivator is we’re doing this together and whatever the outcome is we’ll be content with because of how well we’ve prepared up to this point. We’re just grateful for the opportunity to play and we want to represent the country of Mexico and just give it our all because there is nothing left to worry about or train for. I’m really looking forward to it.”
Born in the U.S., Brookshire is able to compete for the Mexico national team because her grandma, Helen Gonzales, was born in Mexico. Brookshire, who has been a member of the national team since 2017, was vital in Mexico’s efforts to get to this point. In a 2019 Olympic qualifier, Brookshire drew a bases-loaded walk against Canada late in the game to make it 1-1 in a contest Mexico eventually won to earn an Olympic berth.
“We celebrated on the field and it was a lot of emotion,” she said. “I don’t remember crying because it never seems like it’s real. It’s feeling more real now.”
Team Mexico is filled with a who’s who of current and former Division I standouts along with pro players. Since donning the Mexico uniform four years ago, Brookshire has hit anywhere from the No. 3 spot to the No. 7 spot in the lineup. She plays left field and right field but said, “I’ll play catcher if they need me to.”
Playing for a national team was never on Brookshire’s radar until she worked a Nike softball camp the summer after her freshman year of college. Former softball great Jenny Topping was a speaker at the camp and talked to the kids about her experience playing in the 2004 Olympics.
Brookshire also had a teammate who played for the Greece national team, and she remembers telling her mom how “cool it would be if I got to play at that level.” Brookshire’s mom, Stacey Vanderlei, then contacted the head coach of the Mexico national team, and after additional communication Brookshire got invited to play in a tournament later that summer in Oklahoma City in what basically amounted to a tryout.
She must have impressed the national team staff because Brookshire has been playing with them ever since. Life has been a whirlwind for Brookshire, a recent Long Beach state graduate. She played at three—yes, three—Division I programs. Brookshire spent her first three seasons at Sacramento State, one at San Jose State and one at Long Beach State, excelling at each program.
At Sacramento State, Brookshire set the Hornets’ single-season and all-time home run record en route to Big Sky MVP honors. At San Jose State in the Covid-shortened 2020 season, she had a team-best eight home runs and 22 RBIs, leading the Spartans to a 21-5 record and school-record 17-game win streak.
At Long Beach State, Brookshire hit three home runs in one game, establishing a program record. All told, she was able to play five seasons because of the NCAA granting spring sports athletes in the 2020 season an extra year of eligibility due to Covid. With a lot of uncertainty due to Covid, Brookshire transferred to SJSU and probably would’ve finished there had former coach and Hall of Famer Pete Turner been brought back for the 2021 season.
Turner has since filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against SJSU Athletic Director Marie Tuite and the CSU system “in an expanding case that calls into question the management of the university’s athletic department,” per the San Jose Mercury News.
Despite all the changes in her college career, Brookshire wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I think what happened in my college career was exactly the way it was supposed to happen,” Brookshire said. “I don’t regret going to any of the universities I went to. I met so many people and I really enjoyed the time I had at every place I went. At each university I had a coach or two I could rely on and help me to get out of my head or tell me what I needed to do.”
Brookshire said her hitting slumps are often a result of her trying to do too much. She’s worked on improving her mental game which also helps her at the plate.
“I have little cues to think about during at-bats to keep me out of my head,” she said. “A lot of times my mechanics are off because of the mental game. But here on this team I can turn to my teammates for everything as far as corrections go. I made a correction recently that took me a few weeks to figure out, but now I’m feeling confident again and will know how to approach these situations in the future.”
Brookshire possesses a sweet and powerful swing that has resulted in prolific offensive numbers at every level, including the international stage. She has a sound yet simple approach when she goes to the plate.
“I try to go up with my own game plan and figure out what the pitchers like to throw and try to find a pick on their changeup or whatever pitches they’re throwing,” she said. “It’s old-fashioned in that sense, but I worry about my swing and when game time comes, I figure out what pitchers like to throw and what their tendencies are.”
On July 21, Brookshire will likely be in the starting lineup when Mexico takes on Canada, a moment she won’t soon forget. Even when Brookshire made Mexico’s national team in 2017, she never thought it would lead to playing in the Olympics.
“It was so far-fetched at the time,” she said. “I did not join the team with the intent to go to the Olympic Games. We just developed as a team and worked super hard to get to this point and make it a reality.”
Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected].