I could've somehow frozen that moment in between fly balls, I would've. That
moment when I stood in centerfield and gazed around at the rest of my teammates
scattered throughout the field in front of me. That moment when I could turn my
head and see smiling fans to my right and smiling fans to my left, dozens
decked out in purple and wearing the same logo across their chest as was across
It happened this past Saturday at our annual "open practice." On a morning when anyone and everyone from the public is welcome to come be a part of one of our regular team practices, we had over 400 people come out to enjoy four hours of softball together. The day is a fan-favorite and is easily one of the days we most look forward to throughout the year.
That morning, I took reps in centerfield like we normally do at the start of defensive practice. As younger fans in attendance snapped pictures from behind the fences and coaches with their clipboards wrote down the specifics of every drill we did, I found myself taking a step back between the fly balls in the gap and grounders through the five-six hole.
In those moments when it wasn't my turn and I could survey the scene around me, the drill became more than just reps. I wondered how I got so lucky.
Every day, we wake up with this incredible opportunity to not only receive an esteemed education, but to play the game that we love, surrounded by people that we love. And though all of us have worked for years to be in this position, in an atmosphere like the one at open practice on Saturday, it's easy to feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the position we find ourselves in. Surrounded by adoring little girls, the realization hits you that this game is so much bigger than yourself.
That fact was even easier to understand on Saturday afternoon after practice, as our team sat around the dinner table and shared a meal with the newest additions to our program, the Crandol family. Through the Friends of Jaclyn program, we've had the honor of getting to know Katie Crandol, a 16-year-old standout softball player who was diagnosed with cancer on April 20, 2011. To hear her story and see first-hand the fight that she embodies is to know inspiring perseverance. To get to know Katie is to understand what it means to defy the odds. As we exchanged stories about our team and their family, each and every one of us was blessed with the opportunity to gain such an invaluable perspective on not only softball, but also life itself.
Our program goal this year has been set from the beginning: to win a national championship by calling forth the greatness in each of us, and as a team, as we live and learn commitment, passion, unity, and growth. Just two days away from our first game of the 2012 season, that vision has never been clearer. Those words have been in place for over 15 years, and this year's team has an unwavering dedication to making them into a reality.
One of our freshmen, Amy Letourneau, was asked on Saturday how she continued to stay focused despite the extensive amount of time that the Division I level demands. She answered with this: "I think about a national championship every day. When I'm at a four-hour practice or running a sprint, a national championship is what I'm thinking about."
It's on all of our minds. When we open our eyes in the morning and lay our heads back down on the pillow at night. When we're lacing up our cleats for practice and when we're in the cold tub after conditioning. It's what we think about when we're hitting off the machine and when we're catching fly balls. It's what I thought about on Saturday when I sat behind an autograph table packed with young girls, knowing that just a few years ago I would've died to interact with another college player in my position. Where we are is an honor and a blessing; one that cannot be taken for granted. And it's that gratitude that has provided a little extra push towards achieving the goals that we've had laid out since the beginning.
All 24 of us -- players and coaches alike -- have been waiting, preparing, working for this season. The time is now, and the moment is here. We are ready and excited to embark on the journey towards Oklahoma City.
Will you join us?