I had fun running with the boys soccer team last summer/fall. I was quickly reminded of how out of shape I was.
This past week, Augusta softball coach Shane Steinkamp was gracious enough to let me take part in the Orioles’ first practice of spring break.
I’ve got to tell you, after just one practice, it’s easy to see why this team is competing for a state title every single year.
I arrived at practice right before 2:00, which just so happened to be right as the girls already were starting their mile warm-up run, so I’m “sad” to say I missed that run. When they got back, I quickly found out I was not in proper attire; the team wears sleeves in April, so I had to adjust right away.
I did stretches and tosses to warm up before drills. Then, we worked on quick-paced fielding stuff. In the infield, I followed Madison Wheeler’s lead at the shortstop position as we fielded grounders and made throws (I didn’t miss one, by the way). During the process, I realized how difficult it can be to track the ball! It was the same in the outfield (though I didn’t miss any catches there, either). There are multiple fences at a lot of softball complexes that catch your eye as you follow the ball, so learning how to judge where it’s going and how fast it’s coming at you definitely took a little adjustment. It was great to gain a new level of appreciation for how quick these girls’ reflexes are. Wheeler was among several who made tough diving catches and hard plays look routine. That’s why they practice, huh?
I switched from the infield to work through some outfield drills. I quickly learned how important it is to call out “Ball” or “I got it,” because I was running poles when I didn’t (even on my first catch! Tough crowd). Later on, the girls in the outfield were so attentive to each situation and communicated what to do in any given scenario like clockwork.
After drills, we tirelessly worked through situational softball. We paired up and worked through base-running situations, the practice’s biggest focus of the day. Steinkamp definitely wants the Orioles to be prepared for any running situation, so we worked through a lot.
When I was on base, I had to learn the timing of a pitcher’s throwing motion to get a lead-off (it’s so different than baseball, let me tell you, especially with no leading off). It’s been a long time since I’ve run extensively in cleats (which were not spiked, either), so that complicated things for me. I then had to learn how to check for multiple things while on the run—such as speed and direction of the hit — and make insanely quick reads to know what is needed with each situation. These Orioles are expected to be able to handle a lot of information, and they proved they are more than up for the challenge. It was very impressive.
At the plate, I stunk, but it’s not all my fault. A certain pitcher whom I will not name beamed me in the ankle as I showed bunt (It was no divine feeling, let me tell you). Abby Emmitt’s power is incredible, and Alison Macari baffled me with a changeup. Augusta’s pitching staff will be tough to beat this year.
In the field, I made my highlight play by throwing out a runner at the plate from left field! I later caught the only liner that came my way in centerfield.
At the end of the day, we did sprints around the bases. I’m proud to say I made it through, barely. I’ve written a lot about the work these girls put in to be ready for the challenging moments of the season. Now I’ve seen and experienced firsthand how tough it is to get to their level. Yet they do it every year.
It was cool to see how uplifting the Orioles were to each other. They picked each other or high-fived after good plays all day. Team chemistry isn’t some cliched notion. It’s genuinely important, and I see why. These girls are there for each other. Most of all, they’re excited for the season to get started.
It was a fun time. Hopefully I can do that again and come out with better results, especially at the plate.
So who's next? What team will let me practice with them? Whoever it is, I'll be ready.