Column: A new type of designated player
“Our new center fielder, Alexandria.”
If only I could pull off a wig, my 15 minutes of fame would have sent Janae Langs scrambling to save her spot on the depth chart. Although, to be candid, eventually Grand Valley State head coach Dana Callihan would have lost her patience considering a pinch hitter would have been needed for every single one of my at-bats.
In the midst of gearing up for a pressure-packed postseason, the GVSU softball team (36-8, 21-5 GLIAC) was gracious enough to let me, Alex the Lanthorn softball beat reporter, take the field with them on April 27 to lighten the mood and provide some comical relief.
“You did great,” Callihan said. “For someone that doesn’t have any experience in this sport, you did an awesome job.”
Now, I’m obligated to say my performance was a bigger fluke then say a MLB player getting a hit in two different cities for two different teams on the same day. But, regardless, it happened – a la Joel Youngblood on April 4, 1982.
Despite the fact I stopped swinging a bat when the ball was moved off the tee, Callihan wasted no time letting me face my biggest fear. No instructional YouTube videos or the solid hour of practice I got in the day before could have prepared me for the pitching machine and the tension of the team halting practice to watch.
After eyeing up the first couple of pitches and the crowd egging me on, I reluctantly started to hack away. While there were a handful of ugly swing-and-misses, with every foul tip my confidence and fan base grew.
When I stepped out of the cage, remarkably my dignity was still intact.
Everyone’s attention then moved to the field as assistant coach Jen Rivera knocked routine grounders my way while everyone else watched on. Trying to do my best Teagan Shomin impression at shortstop, my greatest moment came on a three-step backhand pickup.
My success, however, was short-lived. The throw wasn’t even close to outfielder Kelsey Dominguez who was doing her best to bail me out at first base.
Throwing errors? At least five. Fielding errors? One. And my vocal support group couldn’t let it happen without letting me hear about it as the ball scooted under my glove.
Before I moved to the outfield to patrol center, one of the last grounders I took jumped up on bad hop and luckily (most likely due to my bad positioning) missed hitting me in the face.
Having had my life flash before my eyes, I wish I would have gotten right fielder Chelsea Horvath’s outfielder tips a few minutes sooner as the team joined me on the field for some live-ball action.
“Keep your glove in front of your face and call for the ball if you got it,” Horvath said.
While I only managed to corral a grounder that rolled back up the middle, my time in center field was anything but uneventful – from random outbursts of “Sorry” by Justin Bieber to outfielder Langs trying to convince shortstop Shomin to twerk because she had a “new view” of her now that Langs was stationed in unfamiliar left field.
With everybody swapping and trying out new positions, Horvath stepped to the plate and I shifted over to right field. After 10 minutes or so of enjoying the amusing small talk around me and glancing up at my comfort zone perched above the bleachers, a ball was finally hit my way.
My slow reaction time turned a running catch into a play I had to leave my feet for.
All the years of playing catch with my old man in the living room behind my mom’s back paid off as I came up with Horvath’s line drive on a diving catch that ended with a graceful tumble and my Detroit Tigers’ cap sunbathing in the grass.
Yet, better than the catch, was the reception I received from my new teammates. It was touching, but really I was just doing what I was told to do.
Moments beforehand, sophomore pitcher Courtney Reinhold stepped into the circle and promptly turned around to her defense and said, “I expected you to dive for everything.”
So, to Reinhold, you’re welcome.
Unfortunately, my lanky 6-foot-8 frame wasn’t as helpful when I stepped into the batter’s box against Reinhold to end practice – and someone missed a prime opportunity to play Ellie Balbach’s walk-up song “White and Nerdy” by Weird Al Yankovic as I took my practice swings.
“You’re so tall that it’s hard to pitch to you,” said catcher Kaylie Rhynard. “If we threw you drop balls they were going to be at your shins.”
Borrowing Shomin’s helmet, my best bet to reach base probably would have been using Shomin as inspiration, GVSU’s career lead in hit by pitches, to lunge out in front of the plate.
But, instead, Reinhold carved up the biggest strike zone the GVSU softball field had ever seen.
Strike one right down the middle. Strike two on a check swing. Strike three on a last ditch swing on a pitch out of the zone.
I was ready to humbly walk away and take my defeat, but that wasn’t how the team wanted to end practice. Reinhold tossed me an extra pitch.
I'm not sure whether my timing got progressively better since seeing that first pitch the pitching machine whipped past me, or if Reinhold decided to slow it down to repay me for making that diving catch or just simply pure luck, but I put the 0-3 pitch into play.
A majestic slow roller to the shortstop, and with that “Alexandria” retired from GVSU softball going 0-2 with a strikeout and a groundout, roughly six errors and a memorable catch.
Much praise and a tip of my grass-stained cap to my overly supportive teammates and the coaching staff. Being on the field with them made me way better than I should have been.
Goes to show that team chemistry can’t be tracked in the press box.