April 26, 2001

The Best Player

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It has arrived. My final column for The Daily Sun. This is just one of many good-byes that I will be facing in the next month as I jump into the world that exists beyond East Hill — a world of unemployment and poverty.

Traditionally, columnists use the last column to explain their chosen title. Mine is pretty obvious, so I think I can sufficiently explain it in one paragraph.

I wrote all of my articles from the perspective of a player, while I was weight lifting, practicing, and on the road with my team, playing a lot of games. My column was written from the field to provide readers with an inside look at the softball team and to bring our personalities, our achievements and our quirks to the page.

Surviving four years on that field is quite an accomplishment. In that time, fifteen of my teammates quit the team to pursue other things and, for the first time in some of their lives, to find happiness elsewhere.

Seven of us stuck it out for four years almost. (Thanks for coming back Babba) — Allison Batten, Charlotte Brombach, me, JoAnne Keck, Katie Maggard, Sara Sinclair and Nicole Zitarelli. Quite a class. We stayed because we were starters, we had fun, we were talented, we loved the game, we played important roles and we all contributed in some way to the winning program that is Cornell softball.

In my time with the team, I have never been considered a starter. Even in my senior year, I haven’t received enough innings to make the list. My role changed radically from high school to college and from year to year under Coach Blood.

So, how did I survive? Why did I stay?

I have seen this program evolve and I feel like I really understand its rough beginnings and its rich history, mostly because of Wendy Fiel ’98. Wendy is a pretty well known figure in Cornell softball circles, as she played an instrumental role in convincing the administration that we needed a field closer to campus. Thus, the birth of Niemand-Robison Field.

Wendy’s stories helped me to see the struggles that others had encountered in getting us to where we are today. Not too long ago, the foundation was set by women playing club softball on grassy fields, with old equipment, rickety transportation and no place to call home. Every year, we try to get together with those who started the tradition in order to remember that we would never have achieved anything without their sacrifices and dedication to this sport we all love.

This sense of tradition and the idea of contributing to something so special are the more abstract explanations for our presence here – as we come to practice day after day, step in the batter’s box again after 20 hitless at bats, and decide to go on after sitting on the bench for numerous innings. We continue because we strive to make this program better and to make ourselves better every day.

Senior second baseman Katie “Maggs” Maggard is my best friend on the Cornell softball team. Like others on our team, she and I have grown incredibly close in our time here and she is one of the main reasons that I am still part of this great team.

Over our four years, we have struggled together through role changes, consecutive innings on the bench and numerous clutch appearances in the late innings of important games, not to mention all of the non-softball issues that we had to face.

Although our innings as spectators outnumbered those in which we played, we tried to minimize complaints, contribute when called to do so, and have a good time. Basically, we kept each other going year after year.

Many of you may know that the pivotal event of my career was a single pinch hit appearance against Harvard in 1999. In all of my sporting years, nothing could ever top that moment. Coach Blood called me in to pinch hit for Maggs. Down by one run, with two outs and two runners on, I sent the 3-2 pitch to the wall and we finished the season with an Ivy League title.

Maggs was so happy for me when I hit that ball that she jumped onto Annette Sheppard’s back as they practically ran onto the field to watch the ball hit the ground. She had tears in her eyes when I came back to the dugout, and sharing that moment with her and my other teammates really made it unforgettable.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t expect moments like that to occur every game, or even every week. I couldn’t rely on pinch hits alone to keep me going, and because I don’t play defense, I needed to have some other motivating factor in order to maintain sanity.

This season, I really learned to understand the need for motivation, as the end of my softball career has been disappointing. I have only had a couple of great at bats, and I can’t really tell you why, because I think a hitting slump is one of those inexplicable phenomena. But, for whatever reasons, I wasn’t the one to get the job done this year.

Katie Maggard, however, did have a pretty good year. As I sat on the bench through the entire Harvard/Dartmouth weekend, Maggs saw some important innings and made a couple crucial plays.

Two years after I contributed to the 1999 Ivy League Crown, we were back in Cambridge fighting for another title. We had lost the first game and were battling for a win in the second.

In the sixth inning, Maggs replaced junior Julie Staub at second. The Crimson began to gain momentum. With runners on second and third, two outs, and down by two runs, Harvard laid down a bunt. Senior pitcher Nicole Zitarelli fielded the bunt and sent a rocket over to Maggs, who was covering first. This wasn’t your average throw, however, as it found it’s way to the ground right in front of Maggs’ feet (hey Z, you did a lot of good things too, right?).

Miraculously, Katie dug it out of the dirt just in time for the umpire to call the runner out, and we won the game.

A couple days after the game, I was still feeling pretty bad about the situation in which I had found myself. I was talking to Katie about how I was the only player who hadn’t seen any time that weekend and that it just hurt to be one of few who was not able to contribute to our great season.

She replied, “You know that I shared that play with you.”

Then I realized that the season might have been a complete failure for me if Katie hadn’t played such an important role in Ivy League competition.

I was able to live vicariously through her defense, just as she had done through my offense in previous seasons. In our four years, if only Katie and I could have been one player (as we always joke), we would have had such a successful career. But looking back, I think that we did pretty well for ourselves and we were laughing most of the time.

We will both graduate in May with two Championship rings and our own individual memories to accompany those victories.


Now is my time for thanks.

My family – especially mom, dad and Staci for tolerating long flights and the frigid air of the Northeast to see a few at-bats, and for coughing up tuition, advice and endless support.

Paul, my own personal editor – for living and loving through cranky late nights, abuse, ridiculous hours, and countless paragraphs of unprintable smut.

Coach Blood – for the stories, the Floridian driving exploits, the opportunities, and the help with my swing and in realizing a lot about softball and life.

Coach Yu, my stinky halfsie friend. You get first dibs on the patent for boxed-up Kino.

Coach Doane – for making me laugh, but helping me focus at the same time. Not
everyone in Salt Lake City is a crook.

Jess Grieg and Tony Manzi – for Boston, Florida and almost every day last year.

Lori Swanson – for being one of the first to think that I might have a chance to play here.

Coach Greness – for being a great assistant, always helping with equipment, always keeping us sharp and for getting that awesome sunburn.

To Teena Murray and Tom Dilliplane – for making us bigger, faster, stronger. You contribute much to our success.

To all the trainers, especially Mark, Graham, and Michelle – for keeping me in one piece for as long as possible.

To all members of the club and varsity Cornell softball teams and to all of my teammates, past and present… especially Maggs, Char, Jo, Jenny, Z, Sinc, Baddog, Hersh, Sparks, Shep, Trout, Shara, Drew, Carroll, Staubber, Critter, Westy, Wendy, Piper…

To our best fans – all of the C.U. softball parents who bring fruit salad and all sorts of other goodies to keep us plump and happy. It wouldn’t be a Cornell softball experience without loads of food and parents who get along better than their daughters.

Carol Mullins and the women’s ice hockey team, thanks for two great seasons.

Thanks to Trish Kemp, Robin Moore, Dani Bilodeau, Erica Olson, Eva Nahorniak, and Amy Galebach for great conversations and amazing feats on the ice, court and field.

Thanks to J.V., Michael Sharp, Dave Thomas, Shiva, Kristen, Gary, Amanda and Adam Lindenbaum for entertaining me off the field with your articles, humor and guidance. I wasn’t one of the junkies down there, but whenever I showed up, it was always a good time.

Thank you to all who read my articles and laughed when I wanted you to.

Archived article by Kelli Larsen