Sports may not come to me easily, but “borrowing” things from my younger brother, Dylan, comes like second nature. Dressed in his white stirrups (baseball pants that come up to the knee) and practice jersey (unbeknown to him at the time), I attempted to participate in a baseball practice.
Baseball has played a significant role in my life for as long as I can remember. My 13-year-old brother began playing as a toddler, and I have cheered him on since. Weekends and summers consisted of baseball practices, games and tournaments all over the country. For as much as I may have complained about spending the majority of my time in baseball cheer gear, I feel as though I have a good idea of the sport from a spectator point of view.
The night before practice, my brother pulled me aside and told me two things. First, don’t embarrass myself, and therefore him by association. Personally, I think he felt relieved he had a junior high game that day and didn’t have to share the field with me. Second, don’t let anyone know that I am related to him so that the coach doesn’t ban him from playing on the team when he’s older.
Although my brother (partially) joked about disowning me as a sister if I failed miserably, he did teach me a bit on how to properly swing the bat and, at minimum, make contact with the ball. With his vote of confidence and the mini garage lesson, I felt prepared enough for practice the next day.
Regardless of my knowledge of the sport and my brother’s lesson, I began practice as a jumble of nerves. Leg bouncing up and down while I waited for my turn in the batting cages, I mulled over my brother’s advice. When my turn came to hit off the tee, coach Brandon Sedell, head coach of the JV team, lent me a helmet (definitely not a bad idea given my slightly clumsy track record), and one of the players offered me his bat.
Swinging the bat the first few times made me realize why I left my brother to sports; missing the ball sitting about a foot away from me on a tee certainly didn’t make me proud of myself. However, 10 or so swings into my turn, I finally got the hang of it, not only making contact but also actually hitting the ball down the middle.
Because I spent the most amount of time in the batting cages and my progressive improvement, it easily became my favorite part of practice.(Photo/Maia Fernandez Baigun)
Feeling a wave of confidence after the tee round in the cages, I readied myself for the next part of batting practice: soft toss. Coach Sedell tossed the ball to the player in the cage behind the safety of a net. When my turn came up and Coach Sedell pitched the ball softly to me, I am proud to report I made contact with the first five balls, hitting them either down the middle, slightly to the left or to the ground. However, my hitting streak ended when my beginners’ luck ran out with me swinging wide and striking out more than making contact.
After the batting cages, varsity coach Bruce Aven brought me over to the catchers to toss the baseball around. Swapping the helmet for a glove, I practiced “pitching” the ball to catcher Kolbe Aven, a junior. Really, I threw the ball to Kolbe, who wore catching gear, while he stood up. He then returned it to me with an underhand toss, likely the reason why I don’t have a huge bruise on my face from missing the ball.
While tossing with the catcher, Coach Aven came up to me and demonstrated the difference between a four-seam and two-seam pitch, more commonly known as a rising fastball and straight fastball. As much as I would like to report that my pitching improved, in reality, Kolbe had to reach a bit to catch my wild pitches.
After attempting to pitch, I visited the actual pitchers’ practice. Along with freshman Quin Spalding, sophomore Hayden Fleming and juniors Jack Anderson and Timothy Esposito, I practiced scooping up a ball with the glove and throwing it back to the coach batting the ground balls.
First, we threw the ball back to “home,” or to the player standing next to the coach with his glove. For my initial couple of tries, I missed the ball with the glove, but my throws almost always made it to the player catching them (yay!).
Halfway through the practice while tossing with the catchers, my competitive side decided to make an appearance. Tying my hair back, I focused on making 100% of my targets. (Photo/Maia Fernandez Baigun)
Next, we practiced receiving the ball from a shorter distance, as if the imaginary batter bunted, and throwing it to “first base.” After each player caught the ball, he switched with the person covering “first.” However, the coach (smartly) decided to skip having me catch the ball to avoid an injury that likely would have occured.
Having finished up my time with the pitchers, the coach now instructed us to receive the ball and throw behind us to “second base.” Again, the coach had another player catch the incoming ball to second rather than risk my clumsy self getting injured. Surprisingly, this drill came to me the easiest out of the previous pitchers’ drills. With the ball soundly hitting the glove of the person covering second (go me!), my confidence from the first bit of batting practice returned.
These three overall parts of practice gave me a good sense of what comprises a baseball practice. Afterwards, I returned to the batting cage and continued to take turns batting. Each turn I got better and better, and at one point, Coach Sedell asked if I ever played softball (probably intending a while ago, but still). Smiling, and feeling the most confident I have felt this entire practice, I admitted that my younger brother plays (something my brother gave me the stink eye for later). In the end, batting practice became one of my favorite parts of practice.
While reflecting on batting practice with photographer and junior Maia Fernandez Baigun, she said that when talking to the other players, they mentioned two things. First, some admitted a bit of confusion on why a girl was on the baseball field. Second, some expressed surprised that a girl could throw that hard (thank you, Dylan, for all the practice you forced me to partake in before this experience).
Although I certainly don’t see myself playing baseball professionally, this experience showed me a different side of the sport. Typically, I watched from the sidelines, cheering on my brother and his team. This time, I participated on the field, and my perspective on the sport completely evolved. I now have a newfound appreciation at the ability of a baseball player to not only stay in the box while a ball comes at them 60 to 70 mph, but also to, in a split second, assess whether or not they should swing.
My time with the baseball team easily became one of my favorite “Kayla in Sports,” although my right shoulder and arm were a bit (read: very) sore for three days after. From this experience, I can confidently say that while I may not be the next Derek Jeter, I at least know how to dress the part.