Softball may one day return to the Olympics, but Laura Berg won't.
The only four-time U.S. Olympian in the sport, Berg is retiring from the national team after Beijing. What's undecided, however, is how she'll go out.
"People keep telling me I have to leave my cleats at the ball field," said Berg, who was chosen to carry the flag during the closing ceremony of the Pan American Games last summer. "So I might do it."
And she might do it as the only four-time gold medalist in softball history, since the U.S. captured gold in the previous three Olympics, winning its last 14 games by a combined score of 65-2.
"We've got to win that fourth one first before you can start thinking about being a four-time gold medalist," said the cautious Berg, 33, who has four world championships, three Pan Am titles and two World Cup titles to go with her Olympic accomplishments.
The U.S. has done all that with a roster made up mainly of Southern Californians, a trend that will be evident again this summer. Including alternates, 11 of the 18 players on the U.S. roster grew up in Southern California, while two others played college ball there.
And competition has helped hone that talent, with many of the players having first met on the diamond wearing the uniforms of youth teams such as Gordon's Panthers (Jessica Mendoza, Stacey Nuveman, Jenny Topping, Caitlin Lowe), Southern California Legacy (Lovieanne Jung), Southern California Athletics (Natasha Watley), the Orange County Batbusters (Berg, Jennie Finch) and the California Crushers (Lauren Lappin).
"You're constantly competing against incredible ballplayers. So that means you raise your level of play," Berg said.
* The Southern California connection: Laura Berg, Santa Fe Springs, OF; Crystl Bustos, Canyon Country, OF; Andrea Duran, Selma, INF; Jennie Finch, La Mirada, P; Lisa Fernandez, Long Beach, P (alternate); Lovieanne Jung, Fountain Valley, 2B; Tairia Flowers, UCLA, utility; Lauren Lappin, Anaheim, utility; Caitlin Lowe, Tustin, OF; Jessica Mendoza, Camarillo, OF; Stacey Nuveman, La Verne, C; Jenny Topping, Whittier, C (alternate); Natasha Watley, Irvine, SS.
-- Kevin Baxter