2015 Fordham Softball – Week 5 / Playing the Game Like Prisoners Set Free

Thursday, February 12, 2015 – University of South Florida / Tampa, Florida

We enjoyed some beautiful weather and scenery on the campus of USF.

We enjoyed some beautiful weather and scenery on the campus of USF.

It’s funny where writing inspiration comes from sometimes. For me, it’s usually through circumstances and conversations, even transitory thoughts or words that unintentionally pop into my mind. Today, it came from the back of a leather airplane seat. A most unlikely place.

For the 40 minutes of idle time during which we were stuck on the runway at LaGuardia Airport aboard our mid-afternoon JetBlue flight, I casually flip-flopped between small talk with those around me and the calming escape of my headphones, in order to ease my anxious anticipation of our impending takeoff. Just before our plane’s wheels circled towards the sky, the familiar sight of a ball field on the small, soundless television screen in front of me naturally caught my eye. Intrigued, my headphones immediately shifted from the inside of my primordial iPod into the armrest connecting me to the previously silenced words from the moving mouths on the screen.

In a matter of minutes, an impressive New York Times Op-Docs video piece took me through the story of the San Quentin Giants – a baseball team unlike any of the ones I had previously been familiar with. It featured prisoners who were afforded the opportunity to play baseball despite their incarceration at the San Quentin Bay Prison in San Francisco. Baseball not only gave these men a physical outlet away from their prison cells, but it also provided them with a mental escape from the confines of their pasts, as well as a way to learn about themselves and cope with their current realities.

I gained a great amount of perspective from watching the Times’ moving seven-minute feature, and of course, thought about how I could apply the San Quentin Giants’ story to ours.

What stuck with me most after viewing the video piece were the prisoners’ beautiful descriptions about how baseball made them feel. One man called the game “a relief.” Another said, “When I am on that field, I am not locked up.”

During a week in which it felt like we were just going through the motions, at practice and otherwise, as we were similarly (though not nearly as drastically) confined to the four walls of the Lombardi Center, these were just the words I needed to hear to be reminded about what a tremendous blessing it is to play this great game every day.

Perhaps things felt differently this week due to a combination of tiredness from school and practice, and the letdown from returning indoors after playing in beautiful Arizona weather. Whatever it might have been, I believe the reality of the 55-game grind ahead hit us collectively, whether consciously or subconsciously, and caused our week to drag a bit.

Oftentimes, the hectic lifestyle of the Division I student-athlete experience causes the actual games themselves to get lumped in with the sometimes stressful undertakings leading up to competition. As a result, it is easy to fall into the trap of feeling overwrought while playing; haunted by looming statistics and a fear of failure.

It is vital for us to remember, this weekend and always, that the practicing, lifting, and long days of classes that turn into late nights of homework are the hard parts of the experience. The games, however, are supposed to be fun; the times when our hard work and God-given abilities are demonstrated. The times when we should experience feelings of relief like the San Quentin Giants did. The times when we should relinquish the stifling grips our minds often have over our bodies, which hinder our physical performances. It’s time for us to play like prisoners set free.

Seeing the Light and Emerging From the Tunnel

Thursday, March 6, 2014 – USF Series / Tampa, FL

Today in class, my Global Marketing professor said something that resonated with me so much at the beginning of the lecture that I couldn’t stop thinking about it for much of the remainder of class. Professor DeFrancesco said, “When you do what you’ve always done, you’re going to get what you’ve always gotten.” He definitely wasn’t talking about softball when he said this, but of course my first inclination was to relate his quote to our team and my personal journey so far this season.

My Grandma and me in Tampa. She came to see me play during her month-long winter getaway to Florida.

My Grandma and me in Tampa. She came to see me play during her month-long winter getaway to Florida.

I got to thinking about all of the different meanings that this quote has and the ways I can relate it to my life as a softball player. Although this quote is often said in a disparaging context to highlight a lack of preparation, poor business practices, or something of the sort, I think it can also be applied positively.

During class, I decided to substitute certain words into this quote to fit the mold of what I’ve been thinking about our team since last weekend at the Citrus Classic: “When you play the way you’ve always played, you’re going to get what you’ve always gotten.” This concept goes back to what I mentioned in my last post about the importance of remembering who we are and what we’ve done as individual players, as well as who we are and what we’ve done collectively as members of the Fordham Softball program.

Coming off of the toughest stretch of our season, it is crucial for us to remember how we have (for the most part) always played during our softball careers, both before and during our time at Fordham. If we can, once again, play the way we’ve always played (consistently, cohesively, competitively), then we will get what we’ve always gotten (wins, championships, rings).

After facing four ranked teams (including #1 Florida) and three other opponents receiving votes in the top 25, and going 7-12 to start our 2014 campaign, I think it’s safe to say we’ve been beaten, battered, and tested in the early-goings of our season. This weekend in Tampa, we will be playing our first all-mid-major schedule since the first tournament of the season, and I think we are all looking forward to a bit of a respite. We have made it through the toughest part of our schedule, and other than a single game against LSU in April, we won’t be facing any other ranked teams during the regular season. Now, I’m not saying the rest of our schedule will be easy because I don’t think that will be the case at all, but I am saying that it will be nice to be the favorite again.

Let’s face it, losing is the worst, and I know for sure that all of us are tired of it. When you face consecutive losses and multiple bad games, it can seem like there is no foreseeable light at the end of the tunnel.

I’m starting to see the light, however. My mindset has changed significantly over the past week. After having offensive success at the Citrus Classic last weekend against some of the top teams in the country, I am beginning to see how my early season hitting-woes are already paying dividends for me. Something clicked in my brain last weekend and it became apparent to me that it doesn’t matter who the pitcher on the mound is or what the name on the front of her jersey says, I have already faced the best of the best. In other words, there is nothing a pitcher could throw at me that I haven’t seen before. Whether this feeling of clarity and confidence came from the numerous talks I’ve had with my Dad and DJ, getting sick of under-performing, feeling comfortable in the batter’s box, or a combination of all these things, I’m not quite sure. What I do know, however, is that my offensive success at the Citrus Classic significantly boosted my confidence and reminded me of what I am capable of as a hitter, even after experiencing the toughest offensive stretch of my softball career. I know that facing top-flight pitching repeatedly for nearly twenty games has provided me with invaluable experience that leaves me feeling confident and prepared going up against any pitcher in the future.

After the Missouri game in Palm Springs (we were mercied 8-0 in five innings by the #16 team in the country), Bridget told us that if she could go back in time, she wouldn’t change anything about scheduling such difficult opponents for us. She said that she would rather us get beaten up when it didn’t matter, in order for us to gain the toughness we will need when it will matter during conference play and in the A10 tournament.

It was hard to agree with her at the time, but just two weeks later, after coming out of my own valley and seeing how these struggles have already made me a better, more confident hitter, I can see how the experience our team has gained against some of the best teams in the country is going to pay off for us very soon.

If we can collectively garner confidence from our multiple big-game experiences so far this season, and take out our pent-up frustrations on unsuspecting and less-experienced opponents, the USF Series has the potential to be our coming out weekend. We are on the verge of something great, I can feel it, and I still believe, whole-heartedly, that this team is special.

This weekend, I’m ready for us to play the way we always have as softball players, so that we can get what we’ve always gotten. The way that got us noticed during high school to be recruited by Division 1 programs; the way that has helped us defeat top-ranked opponents in the past; the way that got us our big, fat A10 championship rings from last season.

As we move toward the light and emerge from the tunnel, I’m optimistic that the future will be bright for this team. I know for sure that there isn’t a more battle-tested squad in the A10. With that in mind, it’s time for us to collectively renew our confidence, puff out our chests a little bit, and do to other teams what has already been done to us.