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.
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.