While Jodi Kielman downplays her hitting, Glenelg softball coach Chuck Struhar doesn't attempt to conceal his excitement.
"When she (Kielman) gets her pitch, look out," Struhar says. "She has the abilityto crush one that will be memorable."
The season is barely a month old, and Kielman, Glenelg's 5-foot-9, sophomore first baseman, already has begun to collect memories worthy of a highlight reel.
Take Glenelg's first scrimmage against Middletown. Kielman launched her season by launching two home runs. Two weeks later in the league opener against Wilde Lake, Kielman became the first hitter ever to clear the outfield fence at Glenelg with a blast to left field. A week later against Mount Hebron, Kielman first touched pitcher Jenny Joyce for a foul ball with home-run distance. With her next swing, she delivered.
The last thing Kielman wants to talk about is her power. She doesn't wish to dwell on the fact that, at the age of 15 in her first varsity season, she already has established herself as the linchpin of Glenelg's lineup, the cleanup hitter.
Or the fact that she has been a key to Glenelg's 5-1 start and will play a huge role in Glenelg's county title and playoff hopes.
Instead, Kielman brings up the two errors she has committed at first base. When pressed to discuss her home runs, a shrug of the shoulders and a blush accompany her "aw shucks" smile.
"I don't like to think about doing this or doing that. I just go up there and hit," Kielman says. "It's rude to say you're the best. There's always someone outthere who is better than you. You can't be cocky about it."
If she had her druthers, Kielman might run from the attention her vicious,compact swing attracts. But no one could hide from the numbers she is putting up as the season approaches its midpoint.
With 23 at-bats behind her, Kielman is striking fear into opposing pitchers. Her .565 average, 14 RBI, 11 runs, two home runs and three triples lead theGladiators. Seven of her 13 hits have gone for extra bases. Two of her triples would have been homers had Kielman possessed more than below-average speed. She has struck out only once.
Kielman's presencein the batter's box brings back memories of Dawn Thomas, the four-year Hebron phenom who graduated last year. The recoil, the snapping wrists, the distinctive thud and line drives she produces all reflect aswing not seen often at the high school level.
"She's so limber at the plate," Struhar says. "She swings like a boy playing baseball."
Which tells much of Kielman's story. When she arrived at Glenelg last year, Kielman had seven years' of Sykesville recreation baseballexperience under her belt. Since playing tee-ball as a second-grader, she honed her swing with the boys. Every year, she was the only girl in the league.
"My older brother played, and I wanted to play, too," Kielman recalls. "It took a while for me to get used to it. My teammates respected me, but a lot of guys on the other teams would laugh at me and say 'She's only a girl.' Then I'd hit the ball over their heads and they would stop laughing."
Struhar knew nothing about Kielman when she came out for Gladiators' varsity as a freshman last year. On the first day of practice, she gave him an introduction to remember.
"All of a sudden there's this girl hitting shot after shot in the batting cage," he recalls. "We kept turning the pitching machine up higher and higher and she kept hitting shots. We're all standing around thinking, 'Who is this?' "
But promise quickly turned to pain. A few days after learning she had made the varsity -- Struharsays she would have started -- Kielman injured her knee in batting practice. After taking a ferocious cut, her right kneecap popped out of place and cracked. The next day, she was wearing a leg cast. Eight weeks later, she healed in time to get one at-bat in a playoff loss to Watkins Mill.
"She was crushed when she found out she couldn't play, but I made her come to every practice and keep score at our games," Struhar says. "I think it helped her to stick with us and hang around some good players."
"My doctor told me I might never play again, and that upset me," Kielman says. "I was determined to get back and play again. At least I got to wear the uniform last year."
Before long, Kielman may be wearing the label as the county's most-dangerous hitter. But Struhar says there is more to Kielman's picture than the long ball.
"We never even talk about offense. I know she's going to hit for average, hit for power, hit balls hard in the alleys," he says. "I take pride in the way she's developed at first base. She'll stand out there and take ground balls until midnight if you tell her to. There are very few kids who can call themselves a fast-pitch softball player. Jodi is one of them.
"If she stays healthy and hits the weights, there's no telling how far she'll go. I don't see her leveling off."