A post card that was thought to be junk mail turned into the trip of a lifetime for Hutchinson’s Emily Pedersen.

Summer for prep athletes is often a tough balance between vacation time and playing in various sports. Pedersen, a senior softball player, combined both with an 11-day trip to Italy this past July.

Last fall, Pedersen received an invitation in the mail to participate with the American International Sports Teams U-19 USA softball team. Emily and her mom, Diane, were unsure what to make of the invite.

“Honestly, we don’t know where they got her name,” Diane said. “Somebody gives them names. ... We thought it was fake, but it’s not. It was a really, really good experience.”

They talked to a few coaches about the experience, and Emily found a connection who had gone on a prior trip. That, combined with a little research, convinced them to go on the trip.

They spent a few holdover days in New York City at the start of the trip and saw the Statue of Liberty, the 9/11 Memorial, they took a bike taxi tour of Central Park.

“That was fun, that was probably my favorite part of New York,” Emily said about Central Park.

Then it was off to the airport, where Emily met her teammates for the first time. There were two United States teams that traveled to Italy, and they included girls from Oregon, Kansas, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Texas, Tennessee and Indiana, as well as a fellow local player from Dassel.

One of the players from Tennessee was the daughter Peter Laviolette, head coach of the Nashville Predators hockey team.

While visiting, Emily took advantage of opportunities to sightsee in Italy.

“The first half we did sightseeing,” she said, “and then the last three days were all about softball.”

Among the sights they visited were the Roman Coliseum, Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican museums. They also rode the high speed train to Florence and experienced a gondola ride in Venice.

“One of the nights we had free time … and there was a music festival,” Emily said. “There were just people from other countries performing. We sat and watched for awhile, and we watched ‘til like midnight. … It was really cool.”

Other cities and sights included Cinque Terre, the Mediterranean Sea, Lucca, Sesto Florentino, Bolgna and Lake Como.

While they were sightseeing by day, they also played softball games at night against Italian teams with players age 16 to mid-30s. One of those contests featured a unique twist — a former Olympian on the other side of the field.

“She was there because they retired her jersey, because that’s where she was from ... and they were like ‘Want to play?’” Emily said.

Emily’s USA Stripes team split those games before taking part in the 2019 International Softball Tournament Memorial Vittorio Pino to wrap up their trip. It was just the second year of the tournament in Italy.

The Stripes defeated the Italy U-16 team 5-2 to open the tournament. They lost a pair of games the next day, losing 7-3 to Legnano/Milan and 5-3 to Dream Team. The Stripes ended the tournament with a 6-1 victory against the USA Stars team.

Both Emily and Diane enjoyed the treatment and experience they had with their coaches, and the bonds that they made with their fellow travelers. If the post card had been quickly thrown out as is, the fate of most perceived ‘junk mail’, the experience never would have happened. Instead, Emily enjoyed the perks of summer softball combined with a European trip she won’t forget. With any luck, it won’t be the last, either.

“I would do it again,” she said with a smile.

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