MEXICO CITY - Well before becoming a player on Mexico’s national team, Vanya Ordóñez had her doubts. When she was 13, already with eight years of competitive experience, she told her family she wanted to leave the bat and glove behind.
Her team was getting ready to compete at the national tournament in Monterrey. Vanya was the No.1 pitcher, and now she wanted out.
“You go and talk to your coach yourself,” she was told by her aunt, who figured she wouldn’t dare.
“Tell him you’re not going.”
Her aunt figured wrong. Vanya did so. Her coach was furious. He felt she was leaving her team adrift. But she stuck to her decision.
“She was always very disciplined,” says Karina Fonseca, Vanya’s mom. “She always listened to her coaches and managers.”
That, it turns out, was the real problem.
Vanya had gotten tired of always doing the right thing. Of listening to everyone. Perhaps she just needed to start having fun again.
For that to happen, she needed time, and her family’s patience and support.
Within the context of a close-knit Mexican family, Vanya Ordóñez has been able to flourish as a very talented baseball player. Without the support of those closest to her, Vanya may not have had the same success.
That support has been very much there, as the 23-year-old can now say she was part of the first-ever Mexican women’s baseball national team in 2018, while also helping to win the country’s first medal during the 2022 WBSC Americas Women’s Baseball World Cup Qualifier.
Vanya, a center fielder, carries a big smile on her face most of the time. Come game time, she’s calm and measured. Her teammates describe her as “cool” on the field.
That coolness has taken her far as an athlete. Her humbleness and strong family bonds also keep her grounded.
For Vanya Ordóñez, it’s all about family.
Indeed, her baseball and softball talent comes directly from family. That is, a strong line of women with direct ties to baseball.
Mother Karina, aunt Erika and grandmother Elsa played baseball in college, and all urged a 6-year-old Vanya to pick up softball.
“At first,” Vanya says now, “I didn’t want to get in the field.”
Without question, Vanya considers the three the most influential people in her life. The grandmother-mother-aunt-daughter quartet spends every weekend together.
They don’t just share a passion for the game. The weekend routine does not vary: Vanya’s game, dinner and movies together at aunt Erika’s house.
Vanya considers them a team of three that’s always there to offer their advice and support. If, for example, plane tickets to go to a tournament need to be bought, mom, aunt and grandma will organize to help out.
That support has always been there. When Vanya was young, her parents got divorced. Karina moved in with her partner, but Vanya wasn’t ready to go with them, so she went to live with grandma Elsa.
Later, Elsa went to Europe for some time and Vanya went to live with aunt Erika. “That’s why they’re very close,” says Karina, who also considers her daughter to be as generous as the rest of her maternal family. “In the family we’ve always tried to be that way, trying to help other people.”
On the field, Vanya considers herself mentally strong and poised. “Of course, I still feel nervous and anxious at times, but I can also feel myself taking control of those emotions,” she says. “I think the years of experience have helped me with that.”
For her mom, what sets Vanya apart from the rest is determination. Vanya, Karina says, has always been extremely disciplined with the way she eats, with her training, with going to the gym and with everything that will make her a better athlete.
“She’s very much like her father in that sense,” Karina says.
Octavio Ordóñez, Vanya’s dad, played American football during college and kept doing so until his forties, setting an example of consistency as an athlete to her daughter.
In 2017, Vanya made the switch from softball to baseball.
Growing up in a baseball-loving family, it was something already intuitive. “Baseball is about getting dirty, throwing yourself around,” she says. “It’s a little rougher than other sports, and that’s what I love about it.”
Not only does she love the game, but she became good at it very quickly. Just a year after starting with baseball, Vanya was named to Mexico’s first-ever female national team. “It was some mixture of being nervous, anxious, but also proud,” she says.
Only four years into existence, that national team is set to take part in the 2023 Women’s Baseball World Cup after winning bronze during the August 2022 qualifiers in Venezuela.
Vanya was one of eight Mexican players to record a hit in the last two innings of the game, sealing a 9-5 comeback victory over Cuba. It gave her country its first medal in women’s baseball history.
That, she says, is still an indescribable feeling for her. “I just can’t find the words to describe what I felt at that moment.”
Her mom, though, acknowledges that not everything was perhaps so magical about the experience: “It was horrible,” she says, “because we couldn’t be (in Venezuela).”
Usually the mom-aunt-grandma trio attends every single of Vanya’s tournaments; this time only grandma Elsa could make the trip to South America. There were only, the grandmother declares, eight Mexicans in the stadium for that game. Elsa says they still made themselves heard.
Back home, purportedly because of a poor signal in the stadium, the rest of the family struggled to keep watch of the game on the internet. The image kept freezing. Each time, Karina and Erika immediately tried to make contact with Elsa to hear what was going on.
Cuba jumped out to an early 4-0 lead. When, as part of the late Mexican rally, Vanya finally got her hit, her people back home went crazy. “We were all screaming and shouting,” Karina says, knowing also that more emotions are still ahead for the young athlete and her family.
The official date for the World Cup has not yet been announced. Nonetheless, Vanya Ordóñez is already thinking about it. “We want to be in the top three,” she says.
She has come a long way since being that young girl who was ready to get away from the sport, and a lot has to do with her family having her back.
So how, after all, way back when, did her mom manage to give Vanya the time and space to find
her way back to the game that she knew was Vanya’s destiny?
Truly, she gave her a break.
Vanya joined her aunt’s and mom’s softball team. She pitched. She played first base or whatever position she wanted. So simple. She started to have fun again.
And after two years, Vanya told her mom that she was ready to go back.
Since then, her commitment has never been put in doubt and her achievements continue to accumulate one after the other, with her mom, dad, aunt and grandma always by her side.
“We’re extremely proud and happy of her,” Karina says, “always.”