From The Start

Written by Tori Finucane

Writing this article made me think about the pep talk I would give to my 11 year old self, the year this journey began. To tell that awkward, lanky, bespectacled tween that she was going to be in for the ride of her life (and that sparkly denim is a fashion statement, so don’t let the haters tell you otherwise). To tell her that sometimes things were going to be incredibly difficult mentally, physically and emotionally, but those occasions would pale in comparison to the absolute bliss that would come from achieving her goals and forming lifelong relationships.

I was a late bloomer. Even at age 11, it felt like I was years behind the other girls I was playing and training with. Had my older sister not played softball, would I have even come to the sport? At that age I wanted to be just like her, so it’s safe to say if she played lacrosse or soccer, this might be an entirely different tale. But, there I was, watching all of her games and idolizing the pitcher on her team. I watched in wonder as she struck out batters and fooled hitters into dinky little dibblers, all with incredible poise, enthusiasm and command over the game.

After that, there was no turning back. Once I started practicing, it’s like I could see my future- I was going to be a softball pitcher, I was going to play in college and I was going to do whatever it took. There were no delusions of grandeur going into this adventure. This was going to be an incredible amount of work, but even at 11, I was ready to take it on because I wanted it and wanted to see my dream come into fruition. Not just for myself, but for my family and for all the many, amazing people that I was lucky enough to call friends and teammates over the years.

So what did that work entail, you may ask?

Working with Rich Crowell during a pitching lesson in Waldorf, MD

Working with Rich Crowell during a pitching lesson in Waldorf, MD

I started throwing at least 6 times a week, whether it was 300 pitches a day, 100 pitches a day, or just doing spin drills (those fun pitches are all in the wrist, people). I started going to clinics and camps and finally, a personal pitching coach when my family and I realized there was potential to make my college dream a reality. The stars aligned and I found one of the best pitching coaches in the country, right in my neck of the woods. My dad and I would travel a little over an hour every weekend to pitch with the man, the myth, the legend- Rich Crowell- in Waldorf, MD.

As I moved from middle school into high school and ultimately, college, the time, training and expectations amplified exponentially. Once I had verbally committed to the University of Missouri my sophomore year of high school, everything I did was to prepare for the realities of D1 athletics. I continued to pitch with Rich, practiced throughout the week either with my high school or travel ball team (and if there were no practices, went to a facility to pitch to my dad), and started travelling to Michigan every other weekend to train with another pitching coach, all to hone every aspect of the craft.

I worked hard and I saw progress. Then I worked harder. This tale is not just about me, however. Achieving my dreams was a family affair and I am forever grateful for that. I wanted to do the work and my parents did everything they could to make that a reality. There were a lot of miles put on the family cars, a lot of vacation days taken to shuttle me to Michigan to train or fly out to California for a tournament, and overall, a lot of sacrifices made.

Did I enjoy every moment of this? Not so much. I was a (sometimes ungrateful) teenage girl, after all. When my friends were taking driver’s ed, I was practicing. When classmates had birthday parties, I was out of town for a tournament. Homework was done in the car, school days were missed, sleep was a commodity, and a normal high school experience was tricky. My parents did everything they could to temper this and find the time in my schedule that allowed for flexibility so I could make that sleepover once in a while or go to the movies after school. Still, I got frustrated (thank goodness FOMO wasn’t a term back then). But then I cancelled my pity party and realized for all of the experiences I “missed,” I had some incredible opportunities. I travelled the country with some of my best friends, I spent my life playing a sport I absolutely loved and I received a scholarship to play that sport in college. That, my friends, is a dream come true.

I tell you this because the road to your dreams isn’t always pretty, but the outcomes usually are (even if the results are not what your 11 year old self may have imagined). Whether that outcome is just to find a team you can play with for fun or your dream is to play for a professional team, I leave you with lessons I have gleaned from my own experience.

1. Say thank you to your parents. Sure, you’re the one doing the work, but for the most part, they’re the ones making sure you actually have the resources to make it happen.

Don't worry coach, I was going to get bigger.

Don't worry coach, I was going to get bigger.

2. There will always be people rooting for you to fail. One of my first coaches told me I was never going to pitch… “You’re too small to be a pitcher” “You seem more like a second baseman” “You won’t throw if you stay, you’re too little” There’s no room for that kind of negativity in your life. Let this drive you and not derail you and focus on those who fuel your fire for the game, not those waiting on the sidelines with a bucket of water.

3. Remember why you play. When you’re having a bad day, remember what it felt like the first time you fell in love with the game. There’s a magic and innocence to those first days as a player when it was all fun, no fuss. Infuse that into your life as a competitive player.

4. Respect the game and it will respect you back. If you are willing to put in the work, even when it’s hard, results will follow. Playing a sport can deliver some of the highest highs, but also the lowest lows. Working through that adversity will only make you stronger on and off the field.

5. You are not just playing for yourself. No one person is above the team. Who are you when you’re a bench player? Who are you when you’re a starter? Whatever your role, ALWAYS be a good teammate.