“Thinking Solution” and Rediscovering the Fire in My Belly

Thursday, February 27, 2014 – Citrus Classic / Orlando, FL

Over the past 24 hours, I have spent some time rediscovering who I am as a softball player. After a talk last night with my incredibly wise and bright boyfriend DJ, I feel like I’ve gotten clarity about how to break free from the recent struggles that my teammates and I have endured on the diamond.

The entrance to the Wide World of Sports complex, the site of the Citrus Classic in Orlando, Florida.

The entrance to the Wide World of Sports complex, the site of the Citrus Classic in Orlando, Florida.

In our conversation, DJ and I talked about what the main difference has been in how I’ve approached the game over the past two weekends that I’ve been struggling. I told him I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I felt like something was broken, and after two weeks of focusing on fixing the various minor aspects of the problem, it was still not fixed. He told me that I need to stop focusing on fixing all of the little problems within my game (hitting mechanics, mental toughness, etc.) and adjust my mindset to “think solution.” This concept of “think solution” was passed down to him by his late grandfather, whom he lost as a little boy. What this means is that I need to break things down to the most basic level of determining what the problem is and what the solution to the problem would look like. It’s simple logic, really.

Personally, over the past two weeks, I think I have been so engrained in trying to fix all of the things that could be the causes of my problems on the field that I have lost sight of what the solutions would look like. Envisioning the solutions is only possible by recalling to memory the times that I have succeeded on the field. In my mind, the solutions look like solid shots in the gap, diving plays to rob a hitter, pumping my fist after a big strikeout by one of our pitchers to get us out of a jam, and high-fiving my teammates after a victory.

When I took the time to play the highlight reel in my mind and call to memory the times in the past when I had done these things, I immediately got this sense of conviction that I had been lacking over the past two weeks. It’s hard to put this feeling into words, but I felt like something was panging on my heart and stomach, dying to escape. A little something I like to call the fire in my belly.

I suddenly felt like myself again. The confident, challenge-seeking, clutch-situation-loving, softball-adoring self, not the unsure, doubting, acceptor of defeat my brain had tricked me into thinking I had become over the past two weeks. After just a matter of minutes of visualizing what the solution would look like, I felt like I knew myself again. In that moment, I wanted more than anything in the world to have a bat in my hands with the game on the line.

It’s funny how the human brain works. How quick we are to forgot our myriad successes when we encounter failure. I don’t think I’ll ever understand why the failures gleam at the forefronts of our minds, while the memories of success are fleeting and suppressed unless consciously recalled to memory. At least that’s how my brain works.

My Dad and me at the team Texas BBQ hosted by the fabulous Ortiz family.

My Dad and me at the team Texas BBQ hosted by the fabulous Ortiz family. (Courtesy of Tom Wasiczko)

After having multiple conversations with coaches and teammates alike over the past two weeks about what’s been missing from our team so far this year, I think I’ve finally gotten some clarity on what the answer might be: We’ve lost sight of who we are, both individually and collectively.

I shared this concept of rediscovering who we are with some of my teammates today, as I think it will be vital to our team’s success for the remainder of the season. Individually, each of us has experienced tremendous athletic success both before and during our careers at Fordham, and it is no accident that we are competing at the highest possible level of college softball as Division 1 athletes. Collectively, we are the defending Atlantic 10 Champions, who have proven time and time again that when we rise to the occasion, we can be scary good in-between the white lines, no matter who the opponent is.

It’s hard to remember these things when you’re struggling, though. During tough times, I think it is easy to be jaded and fooled by voices of doubt, which trick you into thinking that you have become someone you are not. I think this is true in life, too. Often times, we lose sight of what we have accomplished and what has made us who we are when we encounter road blocks or unfortunate circumstances along life’s journey. In the process, we sometimes succumb to the voices of doubt, and lose the fire that sets us apart and gives us an edge.

It’s a trap, though. We as humans, for whatever reason, are programmed to dwell on our disasters, rather than count our blessings and look at our challenges as stepping stones for greatness. If we make a conscious choice to “think solution,” as DJ’s grandfather would have said, and envision what the answer to the problem looks like in real time, I think it will be much more difficult to lose sight of who we are, even during the hardest times.

When I close my eyes and “think solution” about Fordham Softball, I envision balls flying into the tennis courts over the left field fence at our home field in the Bronx. I see us cheering and laughing and celebrating after a bases-clearing double. I see us walking into a complex with swagger and a mentality that we are going to take care of business no matter who we are facing. I think we showed a glimpse of that when we gave Oregon a scare in Palm Springs last Saturday during our last game of the weekend. I hope we can build off of what we showed in the Oregon game and get our edge back.

As Thoreau says in Walden, “Not until we are lost […] do we begin to find ourselves.” I believe this to be true, as I feel like I have learned a tremendous amount about myself and my teammates through our struggles over the past two weeks.

No matter what happens on the field this weekend in Orlando, I’m not going to lose sight of who I am and have always been as a softball player. My goal at the Citrus Classic and beyond is to capture that feeling of conviction I experienced last night, and not just use it to reignite the fire in my belly when I am on the field, but set it ablaze.

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Paige and me in beautiful Palm Springs, California after a 3-2 loss to Oregon. Paige hit a monster homer in that game.

Paige and me at the Mary Nutter Classic in beautiful Palm Springs, California after a 3-2 loss to Oregon. Paige hit a monster homer in that game to put us within one run of the 6th ranked team in the country.

Seeing the Beauty of the Mountains and Valleys of the Journey

Wednesday, February 19, 2014 – Mary Nutter Classic / Palm Springs, CA

My beautiful view of these mountains and valleys from the sky.

My beautiful view of mountains and valleys from the sky.

“California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day.” This classic tune by The Mamas and The Papas seemed appropriate this morning when I put my headphones on and boarded our six hour flight from Newark to LAX. Now, as I look out my window of this 737 airplane, I am taken by the beauty of the mountains and valleys I am seeing from the sky. The mosaic of brown and orange shades below is breathtaking, and makes me stop what I am doing to truly appreciate the view.

Last weekend in Charleston, there were both bright spots and rough patches for our team. We showed that we can be scrappy and find ways to win, even if it is not always pretty, as each of the three games we won was decided by one run. We also learned that games can get away from us quickly if we do not turn the page on mistakes and collectively “stay-up” and focused on the next pitch and next play in front of us. Learning from our early losses will be crucial to our long-term successes, as a whole and individually.

Personally for me, this past weekend in Charleston was not a successful one. I struggled, mightily, both on the field and at the plate. While reflecting on this past weekend, I have realized that I was playing so far outside of myself that I can’t recall most of my at-bats because I don’t actually remember seeing the ball. After a couple of bad at-bats in a row at the start of play on Saturday, I fell into the notorious trap of trying to play catch up and make up for my earlier shortcomings at the plate. I carried these feelings with me on defense. In the process, I lost my focus, as I let my emotions take over, and became incredibly frustrated. With this frustration came voices of doubt and anxiety. Before long, I had spiraled into the “s-word” (rhymes with clump), which my father has never let me say for as long as I have been playing this game. I felt like I was trying to climb a mountain, but each time I attempted to take a step up, I was blinded by the sun and fell off into the valley.

After our 8-0 loss to DePaul on Saturday morning, I lost control of my emotions altogether. In just a matter of three games, I went from feeling confident, prepared, and focused to suddenly doubting myself and being so consumed by frustration that it came out in the form of tears when I was waiting for our bus to arrive after the game. It was then that a great thing happened. Paige Ortiz, our first baseman and one of my very good friends, sat next to me, put her arm around me, and we shared an orange together. She told me that she believed in me and made me laugh through my tears. Although Paige’s pep talk did not translate into statistical success on the diamond when we played later that night and the next day, it gave me the perspective that I needed to brush myself off and get back to climbing. After my talk with Paige, as well as a nice chat I had with Coach McGowan, I changed my attitude and had a more positive approach on the field. Although the hits were still not falling, I began putting together better at-bats and making the plays that my team needed me to make at third base.

Paige went through a similarly rough weekend offensively, and has also been focusing this week on the mental side of hitting and her approach at the plate. Since returning on Sunday night, we have been helping each other make sense of our Charleston struggles and sharing motivational messages back and forth in the process. Through these recent struggles, it has been great having someone like Paige to lean on for support and talk about hitting with. Although struggles are never fun to endure, I know that this valley we are traveling through in our journey is a blessing in disguise for both Paige and me. It has not only made us closer friends and better teammates, but it will also make us more battle-tested ball players. I know that when we both eventually come out of this valley and make it to the mountaintop, she and I will look to each other first for the celebration. I’m really thankful for Paige.

As we enter our third weekend of action, I feel like we are in the midst of an important point in our season. Our coaches have stressed to us that our extremely tough out of conference schedule is meant to get us better and prepare us for conference play. These next five games will not only allow us to evaluate how we stack up against some of the best teams in the country, but it will also give us the opportunity to prove to ourselves and the rest of the conference that we are a force to be reckoned with. After a 5-3 start against some very good opponents in Orlando and Charleston, we are poised and prepared for success on the west coast. Although we are not favored to win any of the games we will play this weekend, I believe we will embrace the underdog role and surprise a lot of doubters with our play.

I am excited for the experiences that playing in Palm Springs will provide me and my teammates with this weekend. Through the events of the past week, I have learned that one must first experience the view from the valley before the view from the mountaintop is possible. Just as I am doing on the airplane right now, I plan on appreciating the view and seeing the beauty of the mountains and valleys of this journey.

With this in mind, I’m ready to soak up the sun, emerge from the valley, and work my way back up the mountain.

Airport Serendipity, Jeter Sadness & Why Not Us?

Wednesday, February 12, 2014 – College of Charleston / Charleston, SC

As the sun sets on Charleston, I am reflecting on the day that was (and still is), and am having a hard time wrapping my mind around all that has occurred today. It’s 5pm and I’ve been awake for 14 hours. My day started at 3am, as I got out of bed and prepared to make the five minute trek from my apartment to the Coach bus waiting outside the Rose Hill Gym. It was time to start our second journey of the 2014 season.

Because of a looming storm (one of many to derail plans this winter), our coaches decided to travel to South Carolina a day early to avoid delays and cancellations. These last minute changes meant a very early morning for me and my fellow Rams. Because we could not book a last minute flight that would fit our whole team on it, we had to split up into three groups on three separate flights from three separate airports. My flight was the last to depart at 8:05am from JFK Airport. I watched the sun rise with my teammates and coach at JetBlue Gate 10, while reminiscing about travel ball and getting recruited. My teammates and I talked about the serendipitous nature of college softball, and how strange it is to think that just a few years ago we were all at the same tournaments, on different teams, with absolutely no idea how our paths would intersect and softball would bring us together.

Once boarding the flight to Charleston, I found myself sitting next to a lovely woman named Kelly Quinn, a marketer from Hilton Head, South Carolina who was a former college softball player at the University of Toledo. We got to talking about softball, my career aspirations as a sports journalist, her job as a marketer, and our shared love of sports. One thing that really made an impression on me was when Kelly said that she and her husband share a goal of seeing all of the Major League Baseball ballparks together. This immediately struck a chord with me, as I told her that I too have the same desire, but to do so with my Dad. Kelly and I really hit it off, as she was someone with whom I could empathize, and have a lot in common with. We talked for all of the nearly three hours that we spent on the plane together, straight through the turbulence and bumpy landing. I’ve always heard about people meeting perfect strangers on planes and having profound interactions with them. I’m surprised at myself, but happy to say that today I met a stranger on a plane and revealed much more to that stranger about myself than I have to some of the people I’ve known for years. There is something both thrilling and cathartic about exposing yourself to someone you’ll never see again.

View of the Ashley River from our hotel in Charleston, South Carolina

View of the Ashley River from our hotel in Charleston, South Carolina.

After arriving safely in Charleston, we made our way to the hotel, where I learned that Derek Jeter, my hero since I was six years old and the person who I have modeled my game after, will be retiring after the 2014 season. My initial emotion was intense sadness, as I called my Dad and had a good cry for five minutes about how life as a Yankee fan will never be the same. This reaction may sound slightly dramatic, but my admiration for Derek Jeter goes way deeper than fan girl love of his good looks and superstar status. Other than my father, Derek Jeter is the person most responsible for my passion for baseball and softball. From his stance, to his fist pump, to his postgame interviews and demeanor, as well as his leadership and work ethic, I have both consciously and subconsciously copied nearly all aspects of Jeter’s game and have tried to incorporate them into my own since I was young. After taking some time to let the news of Jeter’s retirement sink in, I realized that despite my adoration for him, I wasn’t as upset about losing Derek Jeter the shortstop as I was about losing Derek Jeter the exemplar, and all that he has represented in my life over the last 16 years. Since Derek and the Yankees had such a profound impact on my childhood, and have inadvertently molded me into the athlete and competitor I am today, I feel that with Jeter’s retirement comes the end of an era in my life. Taking things one step further, Jeter’s retirement in October will occur during a time when I will have to start thinking about my life after softball. At the start of my senior year, as my favorite player of all-time says goodbye to the game he helped inspire me to love, I will also prepare to bid farewell to softball, thus bringing things full circle for me in my life as an athlete. This is a fact I am not yet ready to face, hence my emotional reaction. Luckily, I won’t have to deal with those tears for many days to come.

Getting back to the diamond, we Rams are preparing for a challenging weekend ahead at the College of Charleston. After finishing two and one last weekend at UCF, we are pretty happy with our showing, but know that we can play even better than we did. With the bitter taste of defeat in our mouths after a 2-1 loss to UCF on Sunday, I believe we will be playing with a chip on our shoulders this weekend to avenge that loss and get to where we need to be as a team.

Greg Shelley, our motivational speaker, came to Rose Hill to speak with us on Monday after we returned home from Florida. He gave us all the opportunity to talk about our weekend, and reflect on both the positive takeaways and improvements that need to be made. I was impressed with the feedback my teammates gave, as everyone seemed to be equally as upset about the loss and determined to get back on the diamond to play to our potential. With this shared mentality, I don’t see our team accepting losing this year.

My biggest takeaway from Greg’s talk was when he told us a story about Russell Wilson, the quarterback for the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks. Greg said that Russell grew up as the ultimate underdog; a quarterback who was criticized for being too small and too ordinary to ever be great. Wilson’s father, who passed away in 2010, encouraged his son to ignore the critics and envision himself achieving his dreams and playing in the Super Bowl someday. As a result of his father’s encouragement, Russell Wilson adopted a “Why not me?” mentality, which he posted on signs and hung up on his wall to use as his mantra during his journey to the NFL, and then to the Super Bowl. Greg encouraged us to possess a similar mentality. Why not us? Why can’t we beat top flight teams? Why can’t we repeat as Atlantic 10 champions? Why can’t we win Regionals? This reminded me of something that our head coach Bridget told us during our very first meeting as a team in August. She said that the difference between us and the top softball teams in the country is not our talent, but rather the belief that we can finish our season in Oklahoma City. She and the rest of our coaching staff believe that this team is special. Once we start believing it, look out.

The Chapters In-Between

Thursday, February 6, 2014 – University of Central Florida / Orlando, FL

And we’re off. The 2014 Fordham Softball Rams are on the precipice of a three and a half month journey. On the eve of our first game, I can’t help but think of all that is ahead of us. That is part of the reason why I decided to document my weekly feelings throughout this season; in order to capture the most significant moments and emotions that I feel (good and bad, big and small), that could get lost in the shuffle of a grueling 60-game season. This tends to happen during such a long season, especially when our sights as softball players are constantly focused on the next pitch, next game, or next championship. When I think about softball seasons of the past, I often only remember a few moments in time; split seconds of unadulterated joy or sadness, which define entire seasons in my mind. In retrospect, this saddens me when I think of all the details that have been lost. I know Whitman said in his poem Continuities (which happens to be one of my favorites), “Nothing is ever really lost or can be lost,” but I don’t buy that. I think a lot of the most important details of a season are lost because they are not the big hits, diving plays, great wins, or bad losses. A story is not defined by its opening line or closing details, but rather the chapters in-between. I feel that it is of the utmost importance to capture these chapters, not only for myself, but also for my teammates. I don’t want the so-called “defining” moments (the wins, losses, home runs, strike outs, diving plays, errors, good and bad games) to define this season. I want to embrace the process and cherish the memories that will help us get to our ultimate result in May or June, whatever that result may be.

I’m someone who spends a significant amount of time thinking about the future, whether it is an assignment due next week or an at-bat months in advance versus a certain opponent. I think about the future so much that I often forget to enjoy the present. So, this journal is for both my present and my future. In my present, I hope it enables me to reflect internally and provide clarity for whatever it is I’m feeling throughout the highs and lows of this 2014 softball season. Plus, as my father reminded me today, writing is cathartic and introspection is crucial for personal growth to occur. For my future, I hope this journal affords me the opportunity to reflect on a part of my life that I know I will always cherish and yearn for.

(from left to right) Serena, me, and Michele before our first game of the season against LIU. Shout out to Tina for the photo bomb.

(from left to right) Serena, me, and Michele before our first game of the season against LIU. Shout out to Tina for the photo bomb.

Now, as I start my third go-around on this path to the postseason, I am able to recognize that I am merely a shell of the player and person I have been in each of my previous two seasons. As a freshman, I was timid and intimidated by the names on the jerseys of opposing teams, while often questioning if I belonged at the Division 1 level. As a sophomore, I was still unsure of myself as a college softball player, but was filled with enough determination to mask these feelings and succeed enough to make a name for myself and help my team win. As a junior, I’m a seasoned veteran who has been through the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, and I know that the college softball season is a marathon, not a sprint. During this marathon, I know to expect moments of weariness, thoughts of doubt, and potential diversions to creep in and affect my performance in the race. What I also know, however, is that I have been preparing for this marathon since I was six years old, and all I need is a little wind at my back, and then I’ll cruise. Cliché, I know, but I believe my previous experiences will truly help me to reach my full potential as a softball player this season.

With that being said, I am approaching this season with a new type of zeal and anticipation. I’m ready to leave a mark and do something truly special with this group of young women I have gotten to know and love during our time together at Rose Hill. These feelings, coupled with the usual butterflies that I have felt before every softball season since I was six years old, remind me why I love this game and believe it to be the best. I think the coolest thing about the college softball season is that even though it is a marathon, I am not running alone. It’s like a really, really long relay race, with 18 other participants to account for. During this relay-marathon, I don’t have to run the fastest or flawlessly, but I do have to make sure I carry my own slack and know when to hand off my baton to the teammate in front of me.

As I step up to the starting line, I take a deep breath, put the blinders on, and know with my whole-heart that I’m ready to run.