When I was 9, my Father signed me up to play on a Softball team that his friend was helping to coach. My Father always took our family to baseball games and I loved them – but I was never really into playing sports. I had danced since the age of 5 – tights, leotards and fringe were all I knew when it came to competition. A new challenge, however, sounded like fun.
I got a Rawlings Ken Griffey, Jr. Signature Series mitt, sliding shorts from the local Big 5 Sporting Goods and a pair of Nike High-Top cleats. I was scared out of my mind when I showed up to the first practice. Everyone else seemed like they knew what they were doing. The Coaches were using words like “grounders”, “shag” and “back-up”. I was lost. Over the next few weeks, I slowly became acquainted with the lingo. I felt myself improving and I was proud of my progress.
The next year, one of the Coaches suggested I learn to pitch. I was always the tallest girl in my age group and I have unusually big hands – two things that can be very helpful to a softball pitcher (I sometimes now look back and laugh at how so much of my Destiny was dictated by such minor physical characteristics). My Father and I began practicing 5 days a week on new pitches. He even found me an amateur Pitching Coach for a short period of time. By the time I was 14, I had dreams of playing in the NCAA. I had the 1996 USA Softball Team posters all over my walls. I even sent away for a VHS tape pitching tutorial taught by Olympic All-Star Michele Smith.
In 1998, I entered High School and in the Spring of ’99 I tried out for the Softball Team. Tryouts were grueling. We ran a lot. Threw a lot. Hit a lot. The first two days of cuts were massive – 40 girls showed up the first day and by Day 3 there were 25 of us left (it was Southern California, after all – Fastpitch Softball Capital of the World). On Day 3, I was feeling so confident. The 25 of us gathered around the Junior Varsity Coach for the list of the final 15 girls that had made the team. With each name, my heart skipped a beat, waiting for mine to be called. Until finally, all 15 names were announced – and I wasn’t one of them. At first I thought it was a mistake. I actually went up to the Coach after everyone was dismissed to double-check. She confirmed I wasn’t on the team and said, “Keep working hard and come back next year.” And that was it. My dreams were over.
My Father had to work so I sat on a bench to wait for him to come get me. As time passed, I grew more and more disappointed in myself. By the time my Father pulled the car up, rolled down the window and asked with a big smile on his face, “So? How’d it go?”, I was an emotional wreck. All the tears I had held in came pouring out. He slammed the car into park and rushed over to me. He had nothing but comforting words, but I still couldn’t help but feel embarrassed – like I had let him down. I was lying to myself when I told myself I was a good pitcher. The progress I thought I had made was false. I couldn’t even make the JV Team – what was I thinking?
My Father must have sensed I needed some time. He let me stew in my grief for about 2 weeks until he finally came to me and sat me down for a chat. He reminded me of my dreams – of how for so long I spoke of nothing but playing Softball at the Collegiate level. He reminded me of the girls on my walls upstairs and how hard they had to work to get to where they were. He then said, “If you truly want to give up on Softball, then I will support you. But if you still want to play and if you still want to pitch, you have a choice to make. You can be satisfied with the level at which you currently are…..or….we can get you a better Coach and we can work harder.” It was that conversation that saved my dream. It was my Father’s support that kept me focused on my Destiny.
A week later he had set me up with a new Pitching Coach. We drove 35 minutes each way every 2 weeks for lessons. I learned new pitches from a man who had coached the best pitchers in Southern California. My Father and I threw in the backyard at least 3 times a week. I got stronger and faster. Eventually my Father even invested in shin guards, throwing pride aside for the much-needed protection as I consistently started throwing over 60 MPH. When we were on vacation, we found time to throw. When it was rainy (although rare), we pitched anyway. When I took a two-week trip to France with my French Class, I brought a ball to work on spins and grips.
By the time I went back my Sophomore Year to tryout, I was a completely new Pitcher. I still believe to this day, that if I had made the team as a Freshman, I would have been satisfied with my skill level. I never would have been forced to recognize my weaknesses. I might have played for a few more years – and that would have been it. Instead, I excelled as a Pitcher and made in onto one of the best 18 and under travel teams in Southern California. The team traveled all over the country and gave me exposure to real College Coaches! When I got a letter from the Head Coach of a Division I University on the East Coast, I was over the moon. I was offered a full scholarship and in September 2002, my dream of playing at the College level came true.
I can only describe those next four years as pure bliss. I earned the #1 spot as a Freshman and led our team to the Conference Championship. My Sophomore year I broke the Season Strikeout Record and my Junior Year I surpassed the previously set Career Strikeout Record. My Senior Year I even got a phone call from the Olympic Softball Coach of Holland! I still pinch myself when I think of those four years. I wonder, at times, if it even happened. Did I actually get to do all that? Was that really me?
Last week, I received a call from the Athletic Director of my Alma Mater. It was strange to receive a call from him and I wondered if there was something wrong. His words stunned me: “I just wanted to call and let you know that you will be inducted into our Athletics Hall of Fame in June.” I was speechless. Never in my wildest dreams, especially that day on the bench waiting for my Father to pick me up, could I have imagined that the girl that was cut from her High School JV team her Freshman Year, could receive such an Honor nearly 15 years later.
I have so much to thank my Father for in my life. He is my rock and my hero. But that single conversation on a random day in February of ’99 is by far at the top of my list. He saved me. My entire life had been centered around Softball and the ripples that came from playing. I have my Father to thank for saving my Destiny.