My Valentine

Can you hear me when I sing
You’re the reason I sing
You’re the reason why the opera is in me
-U2, Sometimes You Can’t Make it On Your Own

Words from the heart are especially powerful. As the announcement of my BP journey has reached many of you, you have replied with kind words of encouragement. One email’s opening line was, “I’m so proud of you I
could burst!” While a text simply stated, “You truly are my hero.” One funny
tweeter asked, “Do you ever stop throwing.” And another declared, “You so
rock!” I am so humbled by your support. Your heartfelt words mean so much to
me.

Last Thursday, I threw to UMASS Amherst’s baseball team. This was particularly cool for me because Julie Croteau, the first woman to coach college baseball, once served as an assistant coach at UMASS. She worked for Head Coach Mike Stone; the same man I was now throwing BP for. I am the second woman to coach at the college level (Assistant Coach, Springfield College (2007-10). So throwing BP at UMASS is another experience Croteau and I were to share.

Despite this historical connection,I was not feeling any ‘warm fuzzies’ from Coach Stone. I don’t think he thought I was I going to do a good job. Maybe Coach Stone was thinking about the time Croteau threw BP to UMASS. She broke her arm when a line drive hit her. Because Coach Stone’s final words to me before entering the cage were, “Make sure you get behind the screen. Julie didn’t and she broke her arm.”  I smiled back and replied, “I’m not worried.” But as I stepped into that cage, I was worried. Not about being hit but whether or not Coach Stone would ever like me.

I was throwing well to UMASS – hard and strikes. But every time I would see Coach Stone stop and look my way, I threw a ball. Boy, he made me nervous. I knew I needed a mental shift. I checked my heart rate. It was pounding. I changed the song in my head from U2’s “Walk On” to their love ballad, “Sometimes You Can’t Make it on Your Own.” My breath and pace came
under my control. Next time Coach Stone looked at me, I still threw a ball. But
instead of feeling panic, I smiled. And it kind of became an inside joke with
me. Stone appeared and so did a ball. But I was determined to change that. So I
continued to sing to myself and kept on smiling. Soon the nerves left and I
threw strikes for Coach Stone. At the end of the batting session, a once stoic
Coach Stone, smiled at me, told me I did well, and invited me to come back and
throw again to his team. “Anytime,” he offered.

It’s amazing the impact words can have on us. Coach Stone’s “anytime” offer to throw BP, gave me a grounded sense of confidence for my outing with the Indians. Like the kind words that many of you have sent me. Their impact is truly incredible. Your good wishes and belief in me make my heart swell. And just as you have given me your heart, I give you mine. Happy Valentine’s Day.

Believe in Your Dreams

The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.
– Eleanor Roosevelt

Today, I got another email from a parent whose daughter was unjustly cut from her school baseball team. Today’s blog is dedicated to Hannah – the beautiful, shy, red head, who has a cannon for an arm and a gold glove in her hands. You are welcome to play for me anytime.

If you tell a girl she can’t play baseball, what else will she believe she can’t do?
Throughout my baseball career, I have been told what I can’t do. I can’t play.
I can’t coach. I can’t ______ (just fill in the blank). And I am not alone.
Girls, like Hannah, are being forced out of baseball. They are told they can’t
do it. Sometimes they aren’t even allowed to try out. They are simply told
baseball is not for them.

I have a confession… Susan Boyle’s “I Dreamed a Dream” is one of my favorite songs. When listening, I close my eyes and imagine Boyle on that stage, with a dream. She is awkward and doesn’t seem to look the star part. The audience expects her to fail and perhaps they want her to fail. But Boyle knows what she is capable of. And when she opens her mouth, she sings that song of greatness. And then they all believe.

As a female baseball player and coach, I know all to well about not looking the part. About being awkward. And about having a dream. We all know that feeling. That moment when we are told we are not good enough. Not because of who we are or what we can accomplish but because of how we are seen. We are told things, like: we are not tall enough, or pretty enough, or smart enough. Or worse, the unspoken excuses: our skin is the wrong color, our religion is different, or we are not the right gender. And then we just think to ourselves, if only they would see us for who we are, then they could see us for what we could become.

We all have our Susan Boyle moment. That moment when it seems no one believes in us. Yet there we are, with an opportunity, standing with our own dream. And they may be laughing at us. But we must believe in ourselves and know that when we open our mouth to sing or when we wind up to pitch, greatness will be sure to come.

Hannah – Believe. Your moment will come. Your greatness is within. For I know what the better question is… if you tell a girl she can play baseball what else will she believe she CAN DO?

Being Strong

“A strong woman is a woman determined to do something others are determined not be done.”
– Marge Piercy, American novelist

The other night, I was brushing my teeth, when the mirror finally caught my attention. For the first time in a long while, I saw my shoulders. And I saw that I was strong.

My strength and conditioning trainer, Michael Zolkiewicz, reminds me often, “To pull my shoulders back and walk like an athlete.” Through my years in boys’ baseball, I learned that acceptance often comes at the price of feigning invisibility. This included downplaying achievements, rarely talking, and never showing that I may be stronger than them. In short, eyes to the floor and shoulders in.

As I was sharing some of my angst over the limelight of Spring Training with Springfield College’s Head Baseball Coach Mark Simeone, he tried to comfort me, “But you are used to being different and being stared at.” And I replied, perhaps too quickly, “But I’m much more comfortable staying at home.”
And then with a breath of confession, murmured, “I just don’t live my life that
way.”

I am in the gym 6 days a week strengthening my arm and overcoming a pitching injury that once left me unable to wash my own hair. Between the medicine ball
training, the never-ending variety of planks, and the exhausting plyometrics, my
arm has become strong, durable, and pain free. Today, when I was throwing BP to the Springfield College team, a varsity player looked at me after his 6-hit
rotation and offered, ” You K’d me like three times.”

I think it’s time for me to redefine what acceptance is. Invisibility is no longer an option. And while I’m being noticed, I will pull my shoulders back, walk like an athlete, and know that I am strong.

Finding My Song

“What we play is life”
– Louis Armstrong

 Whenever I pitch in a game, I try to find my song. I sing it to myself and it helps me find my rhythm. But it can’t just be any song. The tempo has to be just right. Too fast and I leave the ball high. Too mellow and I’m not throwing hard enough. When I throw batting practice to the Oakland A’s, I want to be sure I have my song.

Today, I threw batting practice to Northeastern University’s baseball team.  I was really nervous. It’s not easy walking into a team practice, where the players
don’t know you, and then performing. Especially when you may be the only woman they have ever seen throw a baseball. But I needed to throw to prepare for Spring Training and I needed the mental challenge of controlling my
butterflies.

I release a perfect strike to the first batter.  I try not to think and just throw. I
have to find my rhythm. Take ball…step back two steps…step forward three steps…throw…follow through…and then repeat. But then I throw a ball and my mind goes into overdrive. I need a song! Keith Urban is not working.  Instead I’m thinking whether my front elbow is up. The Plain White T’s are too slow and the ball hits the plate. Black Eye Peas then race through my head and the ball sails high.

But then the rhythm comes and I enjoy a meditative state of throwing strikes. U2 had come to my rescue. In a matter of a few minutes, my heart rate dropped and I was settling in. An assistant coach stopped me and moved me back about 5 feet because “I was throwing too hard.” I was now in my moment and I was having fun.

At the end of practice, Northeastern Head Coach and former Major Leaguer, Neil McPhee, shook my hand, smiled, and shared, “they are going to love you”.

And I can’t help but think that Coach McPhee just sang his own song to me.

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