The first thing I noticed while watching senior Kelsey Ayers warm up was how little of the ball I actually saw between her release and the catcher’s mitt’s “pop.” I didn’t see nearly enough to hit it.
In the world of under-appreciated sports, softball ranks at the top. I decided it was only fair to put on my pony–tail–friendly helmet, step into the batters box and see what type of heat these underhanders had to show for themselves.
Kelsey took a few steps behind the pitching rubber, took a long stride and short step across the rubber, whipped her right arm down by her right hip and with a flick of the wrist the ball was past home plate.
“Its more difficult to hit a softball pitch because of the release point and how well the pitchers hide the ball until it gets to their hip, allowing you less time to see it,” Kelsey said. “Softball pitchers can use their motions to get more spin on the ball allowing them to throw pitches that break through every zoneup, down, left and right.”
I stepped in and jumped back as Kelsey tried to scare me out of the batter’s box by hitting me on the back foot. I could have left with a batting line of 0-0 with a hit-by-pitch but decided to tough it out and stay in for another pitch. I watched idly as the next two fastballs went by before I could even move the bat from my shoulder.
Finally I swung–and missed.
We continued the at-bats. My goal all along was to make contact, but I regretted it when I did. I swung and hit a rising fastball in on my hands and felt the unforgiving reverberations of the bat throughout my body. As the ball ricocheted off the bat, I felt the sting in my hands. I found out later that she knew to pitch me like this due to her advance scouting.
“My strategy was to pitch you high balls because you have a baseball swing, which stays fairly low in the zone, and you had a tough time hitting anything over your waist,” Kelsey said.
Her strategy had worked, and after a few minutes of whimpering and recovering, I stood back in for a few more at-bats. I ended up hitting a few more that sent vibrations through my hands and a couple of other slow grounders which would have easily been outs. Through a few of my at-bats I realized that if Kelsey threw her change up, I had a much better chance of hitting it. With the foreign motion, having an extra half-second to see the ball from her hand to the plate gave me the ability to make contact– sometimes.
“I thought you did a great job hitting my change up,” Kelsey said. “Normally people have a harder time hitting that one because of the change in arc and speed, but you did really well seeing that one out of my hand.”
In our final showdown I told Kelsey to challenge me with the best she had. It took three pitches. Three swings. Three misses. My time as a softball player was done. I had failed pretty horribly–not one ball I made contact with would have been a hit, and I struck out in my encore.