She's been a member of the Canadian women's baseball team since 2004 and participated in five world championship events. But Ashley Stephenson is expecting the 2015 Pan Am Games to be a career highlight.
That's not only when women's baseball will be played – a first in a multi-sport Games – but Stephenson and her teammates will do so on home soil as the Pan Am softball and baseball competitions will be held in Ajax.
And it's for that reason Stephenson, a 30-year-old high school phys-ed teach in Burlington, Ont., opted against retirement following last year's Women's Baseball World Cup in Edmonton.
"I'm having way too much fun, I still love the game and I still love to compete," Stephenson said Tuesday following a news conference to announce details of the baseball/softball venue. "And with the introduction of (women's baseball) to the Pan-Am Games, I thought there was no way I could retire.
"I play hockey at a really high level and had to retire at the end of last season because I had too many concussions but I still am a competitive athlete and love that I'm allowed to play baseball. This is the highest level we can compete at since it's no longer in the Olympics and so for that it would just be unbelievable and then for it to be in your own back yard is the icing on the cake."
Baseball and softball have been out of the Olympics since 2008 and have merged in a bid to return for the 2020 Games. They are competing against seven other sports for one spot on that program.
In 2015, men's and women's softball and baseball will be played at Ajax Pan Am Ballpark from July 10 to July 26. The overall project cost will be $9-million with construction to start sometime this summer.
"It will be nice to have everything at one site," Stephenson said. "The main facility is going to be unbelievable.
"They're putting $9-million into it, so that's fantastic."
The Canadian men's baseball team won its first gold medal at the 2011 Pan Am Games in Mexico, defeating the United States. The squad is currently ranked sixth in the world.
The Canadian women's team, which started in 2004, is currently tied for third in the world rankings with Australia.
Canada dominated men's softball at the Pan-Am Games, winning every gold medal for 24 years until the competition was dropped from the Games in 2003. The national women's squad took silver at the 2011 Games, adding to its previous medal count of one gold, four silver and a bronze.
Stephenson isn't the least bit concerned about Canada shouldering the weight of expectation in 2015 as the competition host.
"No, I think that's fun," she said. "When you look into the stands and everyone has your colours on and is chanting for you, that makes it really fun.
"Obviously, there's a little bit of pressure to compete internationally and to win but for me, to do it in front of all your friends and family, that couldn't be better."