My dream of a summer
Where it all began…
During the spring of 2016 this seemingly far out dream seemed closer to attainable. Two division 2 players (Morgan Foley; Scrapyard Dawgs & Hannah Perryman; Akron Racers) were brought in to the National Pro Fastpitch League. This gave me a glimmer of hope, the feeling of it being possible was really all I needed to go all in. I mentioned it to my parents and that is basically it… I’m not one to be too vocal about my dreams, because they seem to be fairly lofty. But why dream at all if you don’t dream big?
As my Senior year at Minnesota State University Mankato approached, our coaches did an activity with us. We were to write down our goals and we would store them away until the season ended. A few weeks ago we got them back, one of my goals.. “To get a NPF tryout – & make a roster”.
Throughout my Senior year I began to email Coaches and General Managers relentlessly. Due to the fact that my college eligibility wasn’t up yet, there wasn’t much that could be said back. But I feel if you want something bad enough, you need to do everything you can go get it. My main goal was to try to prove to these Teams that I wanted it. Open tryouts were set the week we were at the National Tournament, so they came and passed… I thought these were going to be my opportunity. Winning the National Tournament I believe played a huge role in my journey, I can’t thank my teammates and coaches enough for that- they helped my dream come to fruition. Post tournament I emailed all of the coaches one more time, pleaded for an opportunity to tryout. Finally the response came… the Texas Charge would give me a tryout when they came to play Chicago.
Tryout time @ 27 Jennie Finch Way, Rosemont.
My Dad, Mom, and I flew to Chicago on a Wednesday afternoon. With a few weather delays I would have to change in the airport and head straight to the field upon landing in Chicago. We showed up and that’s where I met General Manager Scott Smith and Coach Roman Foore. They had games against Beijing and Chicago that afternoon/evening so the plan was to throw in the bullpen while they warm up.
It’s important to understand my thought process going into this tryout…
- Getting a tryout was my main goal – check
- Secondly, I just wanted to know what wasn’t quite there yet…
- I had NO expectations, just complete gratitude that they were giving me the time of day
Heading over to the bullpen was intimidating, the teams on the field taking batting practice and I’m getting ready to pitch in front of Scott, Roman, and Olympian Crystl Bustos – ARE YOU KIDDING ME?
Once I got warmed up they handed me a ball – OH YEAH – didn’t know the ball was different… so that’s about where the nerves began. The ball is a little heavier, making pitches act a little different than I was used to. I warmed everything up – minus the drop ball, because I figured I shouldn’t show a pitch I haven’t thrown very much. In college my go to pitch was the Rise ball, with that I threw a lot of Screw, Curve, and Change ups. Maybe about 10 drop balls my senior year (Remember this for later). As I’m throwing they are telling me what to spot and they just stood behind and observed.
Then they asked to see my Drop ball… in my head I thought, “well here goes nothing”. They continually had me throw Drop, Screw, Change, Drop, Screw, Change… I’m thinking huh, that’s interesting. We finish up throwing and I talked to the catcher a little bit. I told her I really just learned the drop ball my senior year during the winter, I really didn’t throw it. She was shocked, said that was my best pitch. Imagine my surprise…
I talked a little bit to Scott and Roman after I pitched and they were going to discuss things and talk to me between games. Fast forward and the games got rained out, so I’m back at the hotel with my parents and I get a text from them asking if I could throw again tomorrow but to some live hitters. I thought that it was a good sign because I felt good about how things went that day, but my nerves again went up a notch because I felt I had a chance.
Going into this tryout I told myself to just get the batters to miss hit, you aren’t going to strike them out. Mandy Ogle was my catcher this day and she had some very comforting words before the tryout that definitely eased my nerves. (THANK YOU MANDY). I would be pitching against Texas Longhorn Breja’e Washington and Oregon Duck Koral Costa. All of the coaches and people from the Charge staff were there watching. As the tryout went on I got some miss hits and even some strikeouts, I felt it went as good as it could have gone. We begin walking off the field and this is when Roman pulled me aside, told me I had made the team, and gave me an offer. He asked if I needed to go talk to my parents and I -in no time at all- said “NOPE!!” I was too excited to take the offer to wait even one more second for my dream to officially come true… I WAS A PROFESSIONAL SOFTBALL PLAYER!!!!
I very quickly went out to my parents grinning ear to ear and told them, “I MADE IT!” I head to Texas on Saturday! To describe this feeling is truly impossible. I called my college coaches, some teammates, my brother and boyfriend. I couldn’t wait to tell them the good news.
I then went into the locker room, sized my uniform, cleats, glove, practice clothes, and signed the dotted line. By the way, I got to try on THE Bailey Landry’s uniform… this was a big deal people – it’s Bailey Landry. My parents and I watched part of the next game, went out for a celebratory dinner, and headed back to airport to go pack up my life for the next 3 months. WHAT A WHIRLWIND.
It’s Texas time y’all!
Saturday morning at 3am, just over 24 hours of being home it was time to leave for the summer. I basically let no emotion except excitement seep into my mind, for someone who’s never lived more than 10 minutes from home – this was a leap. I had a connecting flight and arrived in Texas in the early afternoon. Intern Shelby was at the airport to pick me up and take me straight to the field, it was GAME DAY.
My dad had a separate flight to come down and help me get settled in, so he was on his way as well. We get to the field and I am as nervous and awkward as I have probably ever been. A big group of amazing softball players that I’ve idolized for who knows how long are now my teammates, how do I strike up a conversation? There were so many unknowns at this point that I began to panic.
- What am I supposed to wear?
- What do we do for warm ups?
- Where am I going to live for the next few months?
- Who are these people?
- Do I belong here?
Koral Costa called me over and introduced herself, told me she was a rookie as well and we have to stick together! It helped break the ice a little bit, soon enough player after player came and introduced themselves and I felt more and more comfortable as each person did so. We played the Akron Racers and won 5-2! Its now about 9:30PM and I have yet to have a decent meal (NERVES PEOPLE..) and I still don’t know where I’m living. We head out to the ranch we are living on and our house was an old office building, so not quite what I had pictured in my head. It was perfectly fine, kind of like dorm living, but it being dark out and it all starting to hit me… I’m not gonna lie I had a break down. I was going to be living in a state I’d never been in, that I don’t know ANYONE in, all the way across the country from my family. I hadn’t let that quite sink in, and in that moment it all became real. My dad was very reassuring, I’m so happy he was there to help me get through those feelings and help me find some stuff to make my room feel more home-y.
My Pro Debut
It was only day 2 in Texas and I got the word from Coach Crystl Bustos to go warm up. I went out to the bullpen and began warming up. We had a pretty good lead, so I felt this was probably going to by my chance. Next thing I knew, Bustos was walking out to the bullpen and she said, “Are you nervous?” I said, “Yes…” She then said, “Good, throw the first one as hard as you can”. I laughed and sure enough, I got the final inning of the game. What a crazy feeling to hear my name announced for my very first appearance as a professional softball player, it still doesn’t feel real typing that. I pitched against A.J. Andrews and the Fagan sisters – just the beginning of long list of great players I’d only seen on TV. My dad was there and we got to have a fathers day dinner and it was time for him to leave and for me to begin the journey by myself.
When I got back to the ranch, Bailey Landry and Emily Vincent came and asked me if I wanted to explore the property and go float in the river. This was a great opportunity to get to know them better and again feel more comfortable. I couldn’t be more thankful for them reaching out, it ended up being the start of 2 amazing friendships.
Game days, Plane rides, and Hotel stays…
To try to sum this whole crazy summer up, I won’t bore you with the day to day journal entries I wrote. Instead I will just talk about some of the most amazing moments of the summer.
Colorado was the first trip of my summer, the beginning of a 17 day road trip all packed into one carry on. We would go from Colorado –> Akron –> Viera, FL –> Miami –> Kansas City and finally back to Texas.
Colorado was very special for me because it was during the travel ball tournaments, so I had a big group of Mankato Peppers come to one of the games – and I even got to go in! I appreciated seeing people from home so much along the way, their support meant more than they even could know. Jess and John Meidl also came to a game in Colorado, 2 more faces I was SO thrilled to see. It was nice to be able to talk to people who I was truly comfortable with.
My first Professional Start
We are in Miami for the MLB fan fest and to play against the USSSA Pride for 3 games. The Pride is a team made up of a lot of big names, as is every team, but girls like Sierra Romero, Kelly Kretschman, and Lauren Chamberlain are people I never even dreamt of facing.
We had played the Pride in a series earlier in the season and we didn’t do very well. I got one inning of scoreless relief in one game and 4 innings of scoreless relief in another. I knew I had done well in those outings but I still never imagined what would be to come…
We get to the field for warm ups and Roman Foore called me over and told me I was starting. I. WAS. PUMPED. I quickly went and called my Mom, Dad, Coaches, and texted a few other people and told them the news. I really couldn’t believe it, when I made the team I was under no impression that I would some day get to start a game.
Hearing my name in that starting lineup – and hearing the lineup across the field, was truly a dream like moment. I know I refer to this whole thing as dream worthy a lot, but that’s really the only was to describe it. I ended up throwing 5 full innings and we lost the game 6-2. In my head this wasn’t a great outing, but my teammates and coaches disagreed. They were all very proud of the effort I put forth and this was a defining moment for me. The moment I felt like I truly belonged. The GM, Coaches, and my teammates have no idea the impact their comments had with me, I appreciated it more than they could’ve ever known.
The highlight of my life…
I have had many incredible moments that I’m extremely thankful for throughout my athletic career, but none can match this is.
Let’s set the scene…
- I’m getting my second start against the Pride
- My parents, Coach Wolcott, Ashley Thell, Anna Cole & family, and a girl I give pitching lessons are all in attendance
- ALONG WITH 6,739 OTHER PEOPLE…
That’s more people in the stands than what have watched me play my entire LIFE!
This game I threw 5.1 innings and ended up getting the win.. My first professional win… Notice most of my moments talked about in this blog aren’t about the wins and losses – or results in the game – but more about the moment. This is no different. Yes, is it an amazing feeling to get my first win against at the time the number 1 team in the league, and our first win against them, OF COURSE. But what was so much greater was the atmosphere. There was so much love for softball in that ballpark it was something truly special.
Not only that but looking up at my parents in the stands was the most gratifying feeling, making them proud is one the best feelings in the world. I went up to hug my parents down the third base line and Roman came up and gave me and my dad the game ball. This entire experience really leaves me at a loss for words, to describe that day, everything about it, the emotions that went with it, the special people in my life that were at it… NOTHING compares. Just as we do every game, we went down the line and signed autographs, with that came my favorite picture of the entire summer. A picture that says a million words, one that has a true impact on me… this little girl has a dream – if I could tell her one thing it would be to chase it – no matter how big or how crazy it seems, you can do anything you believe in.
“Somewhere behind the athlete you’ve become and the hours of practice and the coaches who have pushed you… is a little girl who fell in love with the game and never looked back… Play for her”.
NPF Pitcher of the Week
I won’t spend much time on this, but I think it’s worth documenting. Never in a million years did I think or expect that I would receive any honor throughout this experience. All I did was look at it as a chance to continue playing the game I love, with incredible people, and learn amazing things.
The end of the season felt like it came about as quickly as it began. Though I didn’t know it would be my teammates and my last game in a Charge uniform. When the season ended I had conversations and felt comfortable that I would be returning for another season with this amazing group of people. Something went wrong, things happened that we may never know the answer as to why, but I received word on October 12th that the Texas Charge is no longer a team.
All I can say is my heart broke. For so many reasons… I’ll never be teammates with these amazing people again, I’ll never live on the ranch again, I’ll never put on Texas Charge uniform again. But what really broke my heart is the thought that my career could be over. It was easy to fall into a bit of a funk upon getting the news, thinking that it was over, not knowing if I’d ever competitively get to lace up my cleats again… my motivation was knocked out of me like a punch in the gut. But I came to a realization to….
Never let anyone else decide when your dream is over.
My motivation just had to be shifted. Shifted to working as hard as I can to get another team to take a chance on me. To prove again that I belong in the league and I’m not ready to be done. If this takes me back to open tryouts, then so be it, but this girl is not ready to close this chapter quite yet. Stay tuned for round 2….
I want to also take the time to publicly thank the National Pro Fastpitch League (all of their employees) for what they do to give women like myself the opportunity to play the game we love. The former Texas Charge Organization, Specifically – Scott Smith, Roman Foore, Penny Foore, Jessica Rogers, and Crystl Bustos, for taking a chance on me and letting me live out my dream AND experience a moment that goes down as the highlight of my life. My entire team for making me feel so welcomed and being some of the most influential and supportive people I’ve ever met. And lastly, my family and friends, for supporting me every step of the way.