I work with a lady who recently was telling me about how relieved she felt the day her oldest son made the decision to quit playing football. I think sports are important in terms of developing character, leadership, and teamwork, as well as maintaining a healthy populace. But I certainly can understand a parent’s concern about injuries. The numbers in this infographic are from 2012, but I imagine the numbers today are still relatively close.
Baseball has seen some pretty awesome nicknames over the years: George “Babe” Ruth; Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra; Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown; Jim “Catfish” Hunter; Leon Allen “Goose” Goslin; Leroy “Satchel” Paige; among others. When I was playing softball through my high school years, I also had a nickname. Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not trying to imply that I belong in the same company as these baseball greats. It’s just that, on those rare occasions when I stop to reminisce about it, I can’t help but think that it’s pretty cool to be able to say that I once had a ballplayer nickname.
The summer in between my freshman and sophomore years of high school, I was playing ball on a team with the local parks and rec girls’ softball league. In the later half of the season, the coach for one of the other teams in the league approached me and said that he had signed his team up to participate in a tournament outside of the league, and would I be interested in joining their roster for the tournament? It’s one heckuva compliment to have another coach be impressed with you enough to invite you for that kind of thing, so naturally, I was all over it.
I was loaned a uniform, number 16, and my dad came out with me to cheer us on. I don’t recall the exact location of the tournament, only that it was seemingly in the middle of nowhere on the outskirts of the metropolitan Kansas City area. Nor do I recall how we as a team finished in the tournament, but thinking about it doesn’t leave a sour taste in my mouth, so surely it couldn’t have been awful.
I also don’t recall the exact details of how this one particular play unfolded, only that at one point in the tournament, I found myself rounding third, heading home at full speed in what promised to be a close play at the plate. I reached home at virtually the same moment as the softball. As the catcher was still scrambling to get control of the ball, she was blocking my path to the plate, leaving me no choice but to plow through her to get where I was going.
I slapped home plate, and there was a pause as the umpire tried to locate the ball. The catcher didn’t have it. “Safe!”
There was cheering. There was congratulations. Then eventually, that half-inning came to an end.
Playing shortstop for the team in this tournament was Lauren, who was a couple years older than me, and who also happened to be the shortstop for our high school varsity team. I had spent my freshman season on the JV team, but my goal for my sophomore year was to make varsity, so naturally I admired the girls on the varsity squad. So it was quite an ego boost when Lauren expressed her approval at my base running.
“You know what?” she said as we ran back out onto the field to take our defensive positions. “You’re too tough to be called Precious. From now on, I’m calling you Duke.”
There was a ripple of agreement throughout the field and in the dugout. And the name stuck. For the rest of the summer, whenever I was playing softball, my on-field name was Duke. Then, when the school season began, Lauren ensured the name continued. Even after Lauren graduated, no matter what team I played on, whether it was with the school or on a summer team somewhere, there always seemed to be a parent or a coach or a teammate from a previous team to perpetuate the nickname.
A couple summers after the nickname was bestowed upon me, I was playing ball with a summer competitive team, and we had a tournament up in the Twin Cities area. My parents decided to turn it into a family road trip for that weekend. As we loaded up the SUV with our bags, I discovered that my dad had purchased a glass marker and wrote “DUKE” in big, orange letters across the rear windshield. I have to admit, I was a bit embarrassed by it. But it was also really, really cool.
The summer after high school graduation was my last season of organized ball. Nobody has called me “Duke” since then (and, please, don’t start now). While I don’t necessarily miss being referred to or cheered on as “Duke,” I sometimes do miss just the concept of the whole thing. For four years, I was a ballplayer with a pretty cool nickname, and seemingly everybody knew what it was.
Today marks the five year anniversary of my first post on this blog. While I started this project as a way to stay in touch with the game and to encourage my own continual learning about it, when I reach milestones like this one, I find that it’s kinda fun to share something a bit more personal. A high school softball nickname isn’t something that comes up in everyday conversation, but it does make for a fun story in appropriate circles.
Thank you, my readers, for following along on my blogging journey. That it’s been five full years seems a bit unreal to me, but all the posts are there as proof, even to my own eyes. I look forward to the next five years and hope you’ll continue to hang out with me here as well!
Congratulations to New Jersey high school softball pitcher Mia Faieta for striking out all 21 batters she faced on Friday in a state playoff game. Faieta’s performance led Cedar Grove to a 4-0 victory over North Warren. How about this for an impressive scorecard?
Not only did Faieta toss the ultimate perfect game, but doing it while in the state playoffs makes it that much more impressive, because you’re not just facing any ol’ team from across town at that point.
Perhaps the most interesting factoid about this feat is that Faieta’s performance did not set a state record for New Jersey. That record still belongs to Nicole Webb of Manchester Township, who struck out 22 due to a wild pitch on a strikeout in a regular-season game in 2003.
It feels like only yesterday that I wrote my 500th post on this blog. It seems quite surreal that I now find myself sitting down to work on this one, post number 1,000. To commemorate the occasion, I thought I’d focus on a play from my softball-playing days that I look back on with pride and fondness.
During the summer between my junior and senior years of high school, I played for a competitive softball team called the Drifters. We were a pretty solid team, and with the exception of a few stints in the outfield or at third base, I spent most of the summer playing shortstop.
I honestly cannot recall where we were playing or who we were playing against, nor can I recall what inning we were in, but I do remember that this particular memory happened around mid-summer and that it was after dark. The artificial lighting illuminated the field so completely that it might as well have been noon, and bugs buzzed around the infield as though they wanted to be a part of the game, too.
We were on defense, with me at shortstop, and we had one out in the inning with a runner on first. The girl at the plate slapped a groundball to second base, and everything that happened from there was essentially the product of hundreds of repetitions during practices.
With a ball hit to the right side of the field, I automatically moved to my left to cover second base. Our second baseman fielded the ball cleanly behind the baseline and tossed it to me as the runner who had been on first came barreling towards me. I caught the ball and pivoted.
All I can remember seeing was the front of the baserunner’s jersey. I couldn’t see our first baseman, but I also knew that I didn’t have time to look for her. With the runner coming straight at me and not bothering to slide, I dropped my throwing motion to a sidearm and fired as hard as I could around the runner, making my best guess at first base without being able to locate it visually. The baserunner came into second base, still standing.
Next thing I knew, I heard cheering and my teammates were running past me towards the dugout. I blinked, confused. Holy crap, did we get her? I thought wildly. I jogged towards the dugout, where our coach greeted me with a huge smile and a high five. I sat down on the bench, still too stunned to believe it.
We had turned a 4-6-3 double play, and I hadn’t even realized it. It was the first (and only) double play of that sort that I’d ever turned.
Watching Major League Baseball on television, an infield double play like that appears to be one of the most routine plays out there. You don’t realize just how difficult it is to pull off until you’re out on the field trying to do it yourself. Every piece of it has to go right: the ball has to be fielded cleanly, thrown cleanly, and caught cleanly, and it all has to be done with rapid fire precision. The tiniest misplay or hesitation can blow the entire play. At the amateur level, the only double plays you ever really see are the result of unlucky line drives or miscues by baserunners. That play we turned with the Drifters was the only one of that sort that I’ve ever seen at that level, and I didn’t even get to see the end of it. But I sure was glad to be a part of it.
A little bit of humor to start off our Friday.
Early last week, the Pitt softball team decided to video bomb their coach, Holly Aprile, during what appears to be a pre-game interview. They put a creative twist on it too, donning swimming goggles and “swimming” in the background. It’s hilarious to watch, and even better to see the attempt to push through the interview without giggling.
This may be hard to believe (or, at least, I’m finding it hard to believe), but this marks my 500th post on The Baseball Attic. In celebration of this milestone, I thought I’d share a little something about myself and my personal interest in baseball. Initially, I considered talking about my earliest introductions to the game, but lately, I find myself reflecting more on my experiences playing softball in high school. In light of that, I decided to talk instead about playing for my high school and summer teams during those years.
After the Marine Corps transferred my dad to the Kansas City area, shortly before my tenth birthday, I did not take part in any organized sports again until I reached middle school. In the eighth grade, I went out for the track team, where I threw discus and ran as part of a 4×100 relay team. In all honesty, I wasn’t that good — I was too small to be much of a thrower, and I’m arguably a better runner now, at thirty, than I was at the age of thirteen — but it certainly beat sitting around doing nothing. That year, I also joined my brother in taking taekwondo classes. The three years of inactivity that had taken their toll on my pre-adolescent body gradually shed themselves as I started down the road of getting back into shape. In the meantime, I always made a point to play slow pitch softball at school mixers and even joined an early morning club for girls interested in playing for the high school (fast pitch) team.
Going into my freshman year of high school, I finally had the opportunity to really play the sport that I was most interested in — or, at least, the version that society dictated girls ought to play. That August (Missouri’s high school softball season takes place in the fall), I tried out for the school’s softball team and was named starting shortstop for the JV squad, though the varsity coach also penciled me in as a backup second baseman for the varsity team. That year, I led the JV team in batting average (I don’t recall the exact statistic, but it was well over .300) and even had the opportunity to make late appearances in a few varsity games.
I made the varsity team as a starter going into my sophomore year, but on an unexpected condition: our coach decided that it was time for me to learn how to play the outfield. The veteran players who had once made up the team’s outfield graduated at the conclusion of my freshman year, and I really think that our coach’s line of thinking in the face of this ran along the lines of, “Well, Sanders is fast. She has a strong arm. Let’s put her out there.” While I felt a bit put off about having to give up my comfort zone in the middle infield, the excitement over making the varsity team quelled this small disappointment, and I put everything I had into conquering my new territory. That year, I also began training outside of team practices, as I signed up for a weight training and conditioning class to help fulfill my physical education requirements. The previous year, I had also taken up running to help condition for taekwondo tournaments, but now started doing it for softball too. I played most of my sophomore season in left field, and was named second team All-Conference at the conclusion of the season.
The summers following my freshman and sophomore years, I played for a fast pitch league through the local parks and recreation. I enjoyed playing for the league immensely, and team schedules usually included two to three games per week. But as a recreational league, the level of play did not quite match up to what I faced playing for my high school team. Thus, the winter following my junior season, I tried out for and started practicing with a competitive tournament team.
Things worked a little differently playing in a competitive league those last two years. Team practices began in late January to early February, and the season started in early spring, lasting right up until practices began for our high school teams. Our season consisted of a long string of tournaments: a new tournament every weekend, starting on Friday evening and lasting throughout the weekend. We often played between five and ten games in a single weekend against teams from all over the region, and sometimes other parts of the country. My teammates came from all over the Kansas City area, and we did quite a bit of traveling throughout the summer. Looking back on it, I realize that my parents were really, very understanding in terms of the money that they sacrificed in order for me to do this.
As for my remaining high school seasons, I played center field for both my junior and senior years. As a junior, I was once again named second team All-Conference, and this time, All-District as well. My senior year, I made first team All-Conference, All-District, and was even nominated for the Greater Kansas City All-Metro list. I wish I could say I actually received All-Metro honors, but just being nominated was pretty cool in itself.
One of my favorite memories from my entire high school career came during the season-opening tournament of my junior year. I believe it was our second game of the tournament, and we were down 2-0, on the verge of elimination. With two runners on base, our catcher drove both runners home with a triple that tied the game. I then came to the plate and launched a pitch deep into left-center, where it hit the bottom of the fence. As I rounded second base, I looked up and was surprised to see our coach not only telling me to come to third, but waving me all the way home. The throw to the plate wasn’t even close, and the final score of the game was 4-2. It was the only home run I have ever hit, and we went on to win the entire tournament.
For the most part, those final two years passed in a firestorm of activity. Most of my days ran from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. Each morning, I woke up and went for a run. During the school season, I went to batting practice for an hour before classes started. My senior year, I took weight training and conditioning once again and grew as strong and fit as I have ever been. After school, of course, was softball, and some nights I also had taekwondo or piano lessons. Throughout high school, there were also band practices, meetings and activities for various school organizations, band concerts and piano recitals, and, of course, as much of a social life as I could squeeze out, which wasn’t much. When I finally made it home each evening, usually fairly late, I would do my homework and go to bed, resting up so that I could do it all over again.
I read an article once that talked about how the most successful students are usually the ones who are so busy that they hardly have any free time, and I really believe there is a lot of truth to that. I sometimes look back and wonder how I maintained such an insane schedule, but doing so taught me a lot about time management, and I can’t imagine doing it any other way. It helped that I was so deeply involved in an activity that I loved so much, and in a sense, this blog has become a way through which I get to maintain a level of involvement. My life isn’t quite as crazy as it was in high school, but I do still manage to take on projects that keep me busier than most. I suppose that’s another thing that baseball offers to those of us who love it — if we work it right, it can be the fuel that powers our ambitions.
This infographic isn’t quite baseball-specific, but I do find it interesting to see how baseball ranks among other sports in terms of the “danger factor.” Honestly, it surprises me to see hockey rank so low on these scales, but I guess they do wear quite a bit of protective gear. Fatality rates did not make it onto the graphic, but given the focus on safety in all sports, this should barely be an issue. But it still piques my interest.