2015 Fordham Softball – Week 18 / A Fitting Ending

Tuesday, May 19, 2015 – NCAA Tournament / Harrisonburg, Virginia

My dad and me take in one final moment together at the field following our loss to N.C. State.

My dad and I take in one final moment together at the field following our loss to N.C. State.

Sometimes you end up in places you’re not supposed to be. Places that once seemed distant, even impossible to get to. Places that transcend your understanding of the possible.

For nearly four months, I’ve taken you to some of these places in my life, through my words and videos, during this roller coaster ride that has been my experience as an NCAA softball player this season. You’ve gotten a look at my on-field struggles and triumphs, team victories and defeats, and nearly everything in between. But, what you don’t know is the most important part of the story, the part of the story that almost no one knows. What you don’t know is why this game and the places it has taken me have meant so much in the real life and times of this NCAA softball player.

I thought about my innermost realities as my dad held me while I cried atop the bleachers at Veterans Memorial Park on the campus of James Madison University on Sunday afternoon. We were the last people left in the park following our elimination in the regional championship game to North Carolina State, via a walk-off home run in the bottom of the seventh inning. A devastating blow to our Cinderella run at the Harrisonburg regional, which saw us knock-out the host team and 12th-ranked James Madison Dukes just a few hours earlier.

While the loss was certainly painful, I cried for reasons more multifaceted and deep-seated than just the angst of defeat. I cried tears of sadness for the conclusion of my time in uniform, tears of relief for the end of what had been the most personally challenging three weeks of my playing career, and mostly, tears of joy for the miracle that softball had been in my and my dad’s life over the past 16 years. It was as if every emotion I had recently been feeling had risen to the surface and was being released from the depths of my being. It was, perhaps, the most cathartic moment I had ever experienced.

What most people don’t know is that my dad and I weren’t supposed to be sitting atop those bleachers on Sunday afternoon; not given the hand we were dealt nearly two decades ago. After a divorce from my mom and some ugly events that followed had complicated our lives when I was young, my dad became a single parent who was left to raise a young daughter all by himself. Needless to say, life during those days was often difficult, as there was even a time when we did not have a place to live.

But, even in our hardest times, the one thing we always had, besides each other and our faith in God, was softball. It became our escape from everything that was wrong, and our vehicle of hope through which everything could once again become right. And, right everything did eventually become in our lives, as my dad was able to selflessly and independently put the pieces of our lives back together and provide me with everything I could have ever needed or wanted throughout my childhood, both on and off the field.

And, for as bad as things once were for us, that’s how great they became through softball. Our means of escape had become our shared passion, and had carried us to places and heights that had previously seemed unimaginable. From our magical journey to the championship game of the Little League World Series in Portland, Oregon, to a first-ever state championship in high school, and the amazing feat of three-straight conference championships and trips to the NCAA tournament at Fordham, softball has given my dad and me more joy than we ever could have dreamed of 16-years ago, when the game was simply a source of therapy from our pain.

Aside from all of the victories and amazing moments we experienced between the white lines, our 16-year softball journey did not come without its fair-share of difficulties. Right up until the very end, together we experienced the agony of defeat, the frustration of slumps, and the struggle to make sense of the inexplicable things that happen in our sport. But, similar to our love for one another, our love for the game never wavered. It remained strong and unremitting, and even propelled us through some of our toughest tests and disappointments along the way.

So, as I cried like a baby in my dad’s arms on Sunday afternoon, I felt overcome by gratitude for all that we had experienced together, the places we had been, and the love that we had shared because of this glorious game.

And, while Sunday completed the final chapter of my life-changing softball story, its conclusion was reminiscent of its beginning; with only my dad and me alongside a ball field, just like it had been 16 years ago. No matter what the scoreboard read during those final moments of my softball career, for me, there could not have been a more perfect ending.

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2015 Fordham Softball – Week 17 / Championship Synergy

Monday, May 11, 2015 – Atlantic 10 Tournament / Amherst, Massachusetts

(Courtesy of Tom Wasiczko)

(Courtesy of Tom Wasiczko)

I remember studying Aristotle’s concept of synergy in my Philosophical Ethics class during my sophomore year. From a desk in Fordham’s hallowed Keating Hall, I learned about this two thousand year old idea stating that the whole of something is greater than the sum of its parts. A model following the notion that when individual figures are combined within an arithmetic operation, the figure that follows the equal sign is always superior in value than the ones that precede it. Maybe Aristotle was a sportsman back in his day, because his profound thoughts reflect the ultimate metaphor for teamwork, which was on display for us this past week in the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament.

Following a regular season that saw our team frequently competing as individual figures rather than a cohesive whole, there were enough ups and downs to make even roller coaster enthusiasts queasy. But, we Rams finally discovered the synergy that had been lacking for many of the previous fifty games, and fortunately, it was found in the nick of time.

Just a handful of weeks ago, however, our erratic play had caused us to question whether or not we would even qualify for the conference tournament. We began to hear the whispers of outsiders and naysayers, and had intermittently fallen into the trap of doubting our collective ability to capture a third straight championship. But, similar to how the trees seem barren one day and in full bloom the next, something suddenly and inexplicably began to blossom for us just recently between the white lines.

Entering the conference tournament as the third seed, we cruised through the six-team bracket during our stay in Amherst, Massachusetts. Like a well-oiled machine, we won four-straight games, including victories over second-seeded St. Louis and top-seeded Dayton in the championship game, even though both teams had combined to beat us four times during the regular season. Against the odds and predictions, we became the first three-seed in our conference’s history to hoist the trophy on championship Saturday.

On paper, though, we weren’t supposed to win the tournament this year. SLU had walked-off on us twice during our first conference series of the season in March in devastating, come-from-behind fashion, and Dayton had mercied us on our home field during Easter weekend. Even though we had displayed dominance against every other team in the conference, there was such a great disparity that existed between the top three squads in the Atlantic 10 and the rest of the teams this year. Thus, despite our impressive 17-5 conference record, we were still viewed as the third best team in the A10. On paper, that is.

But, like we had been reminding ourselves since the last time we played and lost to SLU and Dayton, championships aren’t won in the chilly days of March and April; they are won in the heat of May. And, no matter how bumpy the ride may have felt earlier this season, the synergy that ensued last week was certainly worth the wait.

That’s the great thing about sports, though. No matter what the prognosticators predict, the critics critique, or the numbers suggest, the one ineffable characteristic about competition is its human element. And with that, comes a whole slew of possibilities. Like the synergy that a team can kick into high-gear at the most opportune of times, and go from performing as individuals to competing as a unified whole that is most definitely greater than the sum of its parts. The most beautiful of sights on a softball diamond, if you ask me.

So, fresh off the heels of our seemingly improbable Atlantic 10 championship, here’s to hoping that our synergy persists in the upcoming NCAA Regional at James Madison University, even if for just a few more days.

2015 Fordham Softball – Week 16 / The Ordinary Giving Way to the Extraordinary

Monday, May 4, 2015 – George Mason University / Fairfax, Virginia

(Courtesy of Tom Wasiczko)

(Courtesy of Tom Wasiczko)

Familiar sights, familiar sounds, familiar feelings. Backpacks in tote, Nike sneakers trudging toward a bus that awaits like a chariot for its passengers, and a feeling of anticipation like a pungent smell lingers in the air. We’ve done this countless times before, but this time, it’s a little bit different. This time, we’re playing for a championship and the right to do this all again next week.

For the past thirteen weeks of this season, and countless weeks before that, we’ve been playing for these next four days at the University of Massachusetts in the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament. Countless mornings passed in the weight room, myriad grueling practices experienced through changing seasons, months spent living out of duffle bags, and enough miles accrued to cross the continental U.S. several times over, all for just four days in May and a chance to hoist that massive, silver trophy on Saturday afternoon.

That’s the great blessing and curse of these next four days, though. No matter what has occurred leading up to this point, for better or worse, teams across the country have the chance to start anew and either right the wrongs of these last thirteen weeks and advance to the Promised Land of the NCAA tournament, or get their hearts broken by the unpredictable nature of this game, and have the season come to an end. A great dichotomy of sorts, one could say.

For us Fordham Rams, we are as battle-tested and experienced as they come, and we know what’s at stake this week: our third straight Atlantic 10 Conference championship and trip to the NCAA tournament, or the end of our season and the completion of six softball careers, including my own.

As we head to UMass with the third seed in a tournament comprised of six qualifying teams, we are fully cognizant of the battles that lie ahead of us this week. While we have been humbled by this roller coaster ride of a season we have endured, we possess a quiet confidence in both our experiences in championship settings and in the way we have been playing lately.

So, when we step on the field at UMass this week, it will all be familiar. The sights, sounds, and feelings of a conference tournament with nearly everything to gain and so much to lose. But, the great beauty of playing college softball in May is that no matter how familiar things may seem at this point in the season, the ordinary always gives way to the extraordinary when a championship is on the line. That alone is an exciting thought.

No matter what the end result is this weekend, I know extraordinary things are in store for the next four days on Sortino Field at UMass, and on fields just like it across the country. After all, next to Christmas, this is the most wonderful time of year.