Tuesday, April 30, 2013

What I've Learned from Playing Softball

Over the many years I've played this sport, I've learned many lessons.  These aren't just lessons about the game or how to improve, but they're more often than not lessons about life.  This probably happens in just about any sport, but I personally feel that this game is a great teacher, possibly greater than all the others.  This game has taught me two of the most important things I've learned so far in life:  work hard and never take anything for granted.

Even though this game seems to come easy for some people, you can't truly be good at it unless you put in the effort to make yourself better.  It's not enough to be a natural, you have to practice and practice and practice until you've given everything you have to it.  This is true with anything worth doing, especially school.  Until I got to college, I never had to study very much, just like I thought I didn't have to practice much at being a good softball player when I got to high school.  In both cases, I learned the hard way that I had to put in the extra time to excel.  That extra time has paid off, and I am so glad I learned that lesson from the game that I love.  I'm determined to no longer give less than my best to anything in life.

The most important thing I've taken from my many years of playing is that life is short and you can't take anything for granted.  You have to play every game like it's your last.  Because honestly, how do you know it isn't?  There's absolutely no guarantee that you'll wake up tomorrow and play again.  So we have to give every game, every practice, every moment on the field with our team all our heart and effort.  But this obviously doesn't just apply to the game.  We also have no way of knowing when our time on Earth is up, and for that reason, we can't waste a minute of it.  We have to play the game of life knowing it will come to an end and we don't know when that will be.  It's a scary thought, but it's one of the most motivating thoughts we'll ever experience.  And I learned it by playing softball.  

Why D-III?

When you're growing up and playing ball, you never think about playing anything but Division-I college ball.  You don't even know anything else exists.  You just watch the College World Series on TV and just know that Florida or Texas or Arizona is going to want you because you're just the best thing ever.  But then you grow up and realize "Oh.  Maybe I'm not cut out for that," and you sort of give up hope of playing in college.  Never fear, Division-III is here.  While it may feel at first like you haven't accomplished your dream of making it big, this option is very beneficial and, in my opinion, even better.

When you play a sport for a D-III school, you know everyone that's playing is playing because they really love it.  There's no incentive to playing here, since there are no sports scholarships.  No scholarships also means we don't have to worry about getting a scholarship taken away if we get seriously injured.  To make the time and energy sacrifice that sports require in college must mean that you're really passionate about what you do.  We play for school pride, for our teammates, and for our own love of the game.

Even though there is some sacrifice as far as time, it's not nearly as bad as it would be in D-I.  Here, we don't practice multiple times a day.  We don't travel across the country for games, causing us to miss days of class at a time.  We're able to put our studies ahead of our sport because that is our actual future.  We're able to have a social life outside of the team and spend time with our families.  These things aren't really possible with the nonstop schedule that Division-I athletes have.  So while it may not be glamorous or fulfill our lifelong dreams of being a semi-famous ballplayer, playing Division-III definitely has its benefits over Division-I.

Not for Ourselves

At one of our recent team meetings, we had to go around the room and say something we enjoyed about our team.  After hearing the responses, I realized I was very proud to be on this team, and I also realized that these things have always been what I enjoyed about playing softball.  Here are a few of the answers:

-Teammates:  This seems like a fairly straightforward response, but it does have a lot of meaning.  A team full of people that don't enjoy being around each other is never going to function properly.  Constant drama is not conducive to good play in a team sport.  Fortunately for us, we're a group of fun people that get along great together.

-Individuality:  Even though we all get along and play well together, we each have unique personalities and talents that make us important to the team.  We couldn't function without each person on the team, and it wouldn't be as much fun without each individual personality.

-Being a part of something bigger than ourselves:  This is something that people in individual sports just don't get.  We're not in this for records or statistics other than the team ones.  Sure, we check our stats every now and then, but only to make sure we're helping our team the best that we can.  We play for our team and our school.  I think that makes winning so much more satisfying, and, at times, it can make losing less painful.

-Playing for the people next to you, not just yourself:  When our team is playing well, it's a full team effort.  Everyone gets up to cheer and encourage everyone else.  When someone makes an error, we show her support and then go out and make the next play.  We pick each other up on offense and praise each other for a job well done.  There's nothing more exciting than seeing us come together to win a game, and that has especially paid off this year.  We've finally made the conference tournament, and we hope to continue playing this game we love as a team.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


I hadn't planned on making this post, and I generally don't like to be on the bandwagon, but I feel it's appropriate this time.  I'll try to keep it short.

Last week's tragedy in Boston realistically had nothing to do with sports.  It was an act of terrorism, of violence against innocent people.  Yes, it took place at one of the city's biggest sporting events, but it just as easily could have happened anywhere else in the city, or anywhere else in the country for that matter.  It had nothing to do with sports.  But what happened in the rest of the week that followed made me so proud to be a sports fan (even though I've been known to despise all things Boston, sports-wise).  Every team from Boston took it upon themselves to bring hope and unity to the city.  Teams wore patches commemorating the event, the Red Sox changed their home jerseys to honor the city and its citizens, and players dedicated games to the victims and their families.  It didn't stop at Boston, though.  Even the hated rivals of the Red Sox, the New York Yankees, found a way to honor the affected city.  The Boston tradition of singing "Sweet Caroline" found its way to Yankee Stadium as a banner outside announced that the two teams would stand together.  Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Ben Revere made a catch that is sure to be one of the most memorable catches of the season, with a glove that he had just marked with the words "PRAY for Boston." 
This wasn't the first time that sports have brought the nation together after a tragedy, and chances are it won't be the last.  In times like these, team pride doesn't matter.  Rivalries don't matter.  Our differences don't matter.  What matters is what we have in common, our equalizers.  And sports are the great equalizer.  Sports bring us all together.
Stay strong, Boston.


I'll be the first to admit, I'm a bit of a softball klutz.  I've given myself as many little bruises and scrapes on the field as actual game play has.  I tend to trip over things.  My shoelaces, the edge of the dugout, even invisible holes in the outfield.  Which brings us to today's post subject:  injuries.  Depending on when they occur in our athletic careers and the seriousness of them, injuries can be either just an annoying part of the sport or a devastating point in your life.  Personally, my biggest injury fell sort of in the middle ground.  It all started when I stepped in the aforementioned invisible outfield hole.  I thought it was just some sort of sprain in my foot, but after limping around for the remainder of the season, I went for a professional opinion and was told I had an extra bone in my foot that was causing problems. Um...what?  Yep.  "Accessory Navicular" affects 2 to 12 percent of the population, although most that have it aren't even aware unless they pull a bonehead move such as mine.  But that's a story for another day.  The real issue is how to deal with an injury.

Now, it just so happened that the only way to relieve myself of the pain caused by my extra bone was to take it out completely with surgery.  Most athletes will shudder at the word.  Surgery means rehab.  Rehab means extra work.  Extra work means...well, you get the picture.  No one likes the idea of going to physical therapy or putting in countless extra hours in the gym or on the practice field no matter how tough they appear to be (*cough*Kobe*cough*).  Rehab sucks.  But if you ever want to be at full strength again, YOU HAVE TO DO IT!  This is coming from personal experience.  I failed to do my physical therapy at home like I should have (yes, Dad, I'm sorry), and I still pay the price for it now every rainy day.  So I give you this very simple advice: listen to you doctor and do as he/she tells you, even if you have to quit being a whiny, lazy bum for a while.  You'll be thankful you did.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Annoying or Helpful? The Ultimate Softball Debate

And now for perhaps the most controversial topic in the world of softball:  team cheers.  Having a loud dugout, most would agree, is vital to a team's attitude and emotion during a game.  If the team is up and loud, they play better together and with more energy.  But a quiet dugout usually means a rough day (and more often than not, an upset coach).  So where do we draw the line on cheering?  I think it's safe to say no one would argue against a team that simply cheers loudly on an individual basis, but what about organized team chants and cheers?  When we're young, we learn these cheers and we do them in the dugout and the parents (at first) think we're so cute, all yelling and hollering together.  But then we get a little older and the majority of teams no longer take part in this ritual.  By the time we get to this level, a team with organized cheers is quite rare.  So the question is this: do these rare teams gain any advantage over the rest of us by performing these annoying little rhymes?  The answer obviously lies entirely in psychology, for there's really nothing to be gained physically from the practice (on the contrary, most people are likely to have a sore throat afterward).  The case can definitely be made here.  Personally, when an opposing team's first batter steps to the plate and the rest of the team erupts in whatever cheer/chant they have planned, I roll my eyes and think "Well, this sucks."  Let's be honest, no one wants to sit through seven innings or more of a bunch of girls doing ridiculous chants.  I'd even venture to say that the people doing them don't enjoy it all the time.  The cheering team really gains an edge by mentally startling and agitating the team on the field.  The pitcher especially is vulnerable to being thrown off by certain cheers if she isn't as mentally prepared as she could be.  Aside from the mental advantage over the opposing team, a cheering squad will usually come together more than others.  Especially on a small team that needs every voice to get the full effect, every member has to participate and be involved in every play of the game. 

So are there any downsides to being a team that cheers?  Not if you don't mind losing your voice or being hated for being loud.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A Dream Denied: Making the Case for Olympic Softball

In 2005, the International Olympic Committee announced that the beloved sports of baseball and softball would no longer be played in the Summer Olympics.  This was a shocking blow to countless young girls whose dream it was to one day represent their country on the highest of all stages in the world of sports.  After only four official Olympic tournaments, softball was eliminated from the Games, the first sport to meet that fate since polo was gotten rid of in 1936.  So what was the reason for this sudden removal?  The answer could lie in the domination by the American teams, who won three out of the four tournaments, falling to Japan in 2008 at the Beijing Games.  To me, and most of the sport's millions of followers, this is not a good enough reason to eliminate such a well-loved game.  After all, this isn't the only event in which one country has dominated.  Take, for example, women's diving.  The Chinese have taken over many of these events in recent years, but the sport is in no danger of being eliminated from the Games.  If one-sidedness is to blame for the removal of the sport, it's a pretty sad argument,  not only from an American standpoint, but from the view of other country's competitors as well.  Imagine working your whole life to be an Olympic athlete, dreaming of one day being a part of the team that takes down the mighty American team, only to have this dream denied because no one believes this to be possible.  This was the sad reality for the countries around the world waiting for their shot at an Olympic gold medal.  There are so many reasons that softball should have been kept in the Olympics and should be readmitted in the 2016 Games, but perhaps the best reason is the players.  The players are what makes this game great.  They give it heart and they make it enjoyable for others.  Their dreams should not be denied.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Enjoy the Ride

We've all experienced it. We're all bound to experience it again. The long bus ride. Yes, for we college athletes, this is all too common an experience, especially in D-III. Our conference opponents are simply too far away to make these trips tolerable, and any good competition seemingly must come from out of state. So what are we to do on these never-ending trips? Well, that's why I'm here. Here are the top 5 things to do on a bus ride, according to me.

1. Sleep- I know, right? Isn't sleep just the best thing to do ever? If you're one of those lucky people that can sleep anywhere (first of all, I hate you), take advantage of it. Pack a pillow or a blanket or just a big, comfortable jacket to lay on, and, well, do your thing. In my case, it takes some noise-canceling headphones and a little music, but once you find your comfort zone, you'll be doing great.

2. Get pumped- Now, this is one that may not be applicable for the entirety of your bus ride, but once you're getting close to your destination, getting mentally psyched for the game is a must. Coaches hate nothing more than a team that comes out flat after a long road trip. Listen to some music to get your blood flowing, either individually or as a team. Think positive thoughts about good games you've had in the past. Visualize your success this time around. Do whatever it takes to get in a good mindset before you take the field.

3. Watch a movie- If your team is taking a charter bus, or you're cool and have a DVD player or movies on your iPod, watching movies is a great way to pass the time on a bus trip. The hardest part is getting the whole team to agree to a movie. Once that's done, all you have to do is figure out how to get some popcorn.

4. Play games- This isn't one of my personal favorites, but I know it's a popular one. This is a great team-building activity and can be a good way to find out things about your teammates. Just remember the golden rule: what happens on the bus stays on the bus.

5. Stare out the window- Nothing makes a person feel deep and philosophical like watching the countryside fly by out the bus window. An activity that's less about seeing than about thinking, this might get boring for some. But for me, nothing's quite like the tranquil nature of...nature....

Have a great ride!