GVSU's Vander Meer embraces unique role
Laker junior has logged 94 appearances with one career start
Ali Vander Meer | Courtesy: Doug Witte | GVSU Athletics
Team players are easy to spot, but hardly get the praise they deserve.
Every sport has them, from Grand Valley State offensive linemen creating a barricade in front of quarterback Bart Williams to volleyball players Audrey Kidd and Carley Gross sidelined with injuries, but still finishing out their senior seasons.
For GVSU softball, junior Ali Vander Meer can sometimes be difficult to find, since she is one of the shorter players on the team at 5-foot-5-inches. But almost every game, there comes one brief moment when everyone’s attention is on her.
“Pinch running at second base for Grand Valley State, No. 8 Ali Vander Meer.”
The public address announcement cuts off to the next walk-up song and play resumes.
When your job description is basically giving your teammates a free pass not to run the bases, some more recognition is needed than a scripted one-liner coming from the press box.
“You got to have those key components, those team players,” said GVSU head coach Dana Callihan. “We can’t play everybody, unfortunately. It’s not like basketball where we can sub in and out. You get your chances and when (Vander Meer) gets them, she takes advantage of it.”
Vander Meer, a graduate from Grandville High School who decided to stay close to home and attended her first-choice school, has made 94 appearances for GVSU while making only one start.
It was so long ago–four games into her freshman season–that Vander Meer had no recollection of being penciled in as the starting designated player.
“I don’t even remember when that one start was,” she said.
Luckily for Vander Meer, softball is more about reaction time than memory. She has come around to score 10 or more runs in every season for a total of 35.
“She knows when she gets into the game that her role is to score and she has done a great job with that for three years,” Callihan said. “You can trust her out there and she is eager to do it. I don’t know (how she ended up in that role), it just happened that way, I guess. But, I trust her wholeheartedly with her instincts on the bases and I think that’s how it all started.”
Callihan also offered an explanation for this unusual phenomenon–Vander Meer has never attempted to steal a base despite being the team’s first-choice pinch runner.
“Well, she did last week on a hit-and-run, but then got picked off on a line (drive) shot (for a) double play. She’s not blazing speed by any means, so base stealing isn’t necessarily her forte.”
Whether it’s coming in to relieve designated player Ellie Balbach at second base or giving McKenze Supernaw a quick breather, Vander Meer’s teammates appreciate seeing her trot onto the diamond and momentarily taking their spot.
“It’s a very, very important role on the team,” Balbach said. “If she is not there, then I’m probably not going to score. She has a much better chance to score for us and that’s (obviously) very important.”
Vander Meer’s impact is pretty straightforward when phrased that way. She isn’t just a cheerleader.
“Stay positive and keep cheering,” Vander Meer said about keeping motivated during a game. “Sometimes those cold games are a little bit tough, but you just have to stay upbeat and make sure to cheer.”
Staying engaged to only be substituted in once, or possibly not at all, apparently isn’t that challenging when you’re confined in a small space with a bunch of other women.
“There are a lot of laughs in the dugout, a lot of weird things…You don’t want to know what’s going on in the dugout,” she said.
Although, what happened on April 19 can’t be kept under wraps.
With the Lakers leading 6-0 in the second game of a doubleheader against conference last-place Lake Superior State, Vander Meer swung open the gate to her rectangular holding cell--this time holding a bat.
In her 14th career at-bat, Vander Meer singled to center field for her first collegiate hit and RBI.
“It was fun because of the team," she said. "They were all in the dugout going crazy."
At least Vander Meer’s teammates have good memories and were able to give their unsung pinch runner the ovation she rightfully deserves.