When Keira Bucher stands on the mound, her eyes, draped in dark black eyeliner and red eyeshadow, pierce through the batter she’s facing.

Her black lipstick complements her flailing black and red curls and an earful of earrings she wears for almost every game.

As she winds up to pitch, Bucher’s tattoos come into view. On her forearm is a knife decorated with leaves, a nod to her nickname, K-Bar. In addition to representing her initials, Ka-Bar is a brand of knives used in the Marine Corps, which her father served in.

As she brings the glove back up to her face, another tattoo becomes visible. It’s the indigenous Taíno symbol for Coquí, frogs native to the island. It’s a way for many Puerto Ricans to identify with their home. Her mother and 16-year-old brother share the same tattoo.

The daughter of a Puerto Rican mother and Korean father, Bucher had two very present cultures in her childhood home. While she felt more in touch with her East Asian heritage in her younger years, the Puerto Rican National Team gave Bucher the connection to her roots she had always yearned for.

Bucher moved frequently in her childhood because of her parent’s military duties, but they landed in San Diego when she was 5 years old. Living among a close-knit Korean sector of San Diego’s population allowed Bucher to experience the culture hands-on through food.

“My biggest connection with it growing up was always the food,” Bucher said. “We would have Korean barbecue nights and then now we’re making more advanced dishes. My grandma taught me how to make gimbap which is kind of similar to sushi … That’s where I feel like I’m really passionate.”

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She found a way to connect her culture with softball, a sport she’s played her whole life. Bucher started playing for a Korean team in California. Soon after, Bucher found her place on the Puerto Rican National Team.

“While I was playing for the Korean team, my friend’s mom saw the Puerto Rican junior national team coaches scouting this little mini tournament and the Puerto Rican team there,” Bucher said, “and dragged them over and was like, ‘hey, the Korean pitcher, she’s also Puerto Rican, come watch.’”

Bucher was invited to play with the junior national team in Peru in December 2021. With Bucher on the mound, the team placed in the Women’s Softball World Cup, earning a bronze medal. She currently pitches for the Puerto Rican national softball team. In 2023, she helped them win a gold medal in the Central American and Caribbean Games in El Salvador.

For Bucher, the opportunity provided more than just softball.The team’s travel brought Bucher closer to her Puerto Rican family, allowing her to spend holidays with her grandparents and bask in the culture of the island.

“I’m making a lot more Puerto Rican friends and I’m eating more Puerto Rican food,” Bucher said. “I’m just having so much fun getting to learn these things … The exposure for me has been so amazing to be able to represent them and also learn about myself and my heritage.”

In El Salvador, Bucher’s team practiced on a field next to a small restaurant. She stood in the outfield fielding batted balls, but her focus was elsewhere.

“All I could smell was the carne asada,” Bucher said. “It smelled so good and I was so hungry, Bucher said.

The restaurant workers yelled to Bucher, inquiring in Spanish about her team. After learning she was there for Puerto Rico, they promised to cheer for her for every game — except when they played El Salvador, Bucher said.

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The Central American and Caribbean Games brought in teams from around the region. It opened the door for Bucher to meet many people in and out of her culture.

“Win or lose, I’m just so happy to be a part of this,” Bucher said.When the team travels home to Puerto Rico, supporters from nearby neighborhoods pack the stadium. They have no relation to the players they’re watching — just their rampant pride. Bucher feels this when she wears her Puerto Rican softball gear or when people see her coquí tattoo. Wherever she is, the culture is a connection.

Bucher has also started educating her Puerto Rican teammates about her Korean side — the island has a very small Asian population and her teammates lacked exposure to the culture. Her unique position allowed her to help bridge that gap between the Puerto Rican team and other squads they played.

“When we first played Chinese Taipei … There’s a huge language barrier,” Bucher said. “But we still ended up having this dance battle. We ended up trading snacks and gifts and I have the balls signed by them and all these lovely things.”

Bucher’s time in Puerto Rico pushed her out of her comfort zone and sparked a passion for bringing people together, inside and outside their culture. She brought this priority back to Maryland.

“Unless we pick somebody from the transfer portal, unfortunately after this graduating year, I’m going to be the only ethnic diversity on the team, and I’m still half white,” Bucher said. “It’s hard for such a diverse school to look at this team and want to get involved when they don’t see any of themselves reflected on the team.”

Her goal is to start cultural nights for the team. She’s talked to team communications employees about reaching out to Hispanic, Black and Asian student associations to see if they would be interested in being featured by the softball team. She hopes this will encourage the university’s diverse student body to support their associations as well as the team, Bucher said.

Bucher knows her journey around the world and into her culture would not be possible without softball. After finding herself, Bucher now holds heightened confidence, passion and knowledge of her past. It has her proud of where she’s headed.