Taking a cut at softball High schools: Unable to make the jump from JV to varsity baseball, Becky Carlson has opted to focus '100 percent' on softball at Arundel High.

March 27, 1998|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,SUN STAFF

Becky Carlson was at a lacrosse game the other night when someone asked a familiar question: "Aren't you the girl who plays baseball?"

"I had to say 'No, '" said Carlson, a junior at Arundel High. "That hurts the most."

During the past two years, Carlson threw out a first pitch at Camden Yards, was featured on ABC's "Wide World of Sports" and won a battle with state and county school officials to play on the Wildcats' junior varsity baseball team, starting in left field most of last season.

But this spring, for the first time since she was 7, Carlson is not playing baseball.

After the two-week varsity tryout earlier this month, the cut list came out and Arundel coach Bernie Walter, in his 25th season, asked to talk with Carlson.

"I figured this was it. He's not going to call me in individually to tell me I made the team," she said. "It wasn't easy and I'm still sort of getting over it. But I know I went into it with a 100 percent attitude and gave it my all, so I didn't fail."

Said Walter: "Becky is a tremendous athlete. She played as hard as anyone could play. It just came down to the boys getting bigger, stronger and faster, and there wasn't much she could do about it. I've never had a junior on my JV team, so that wasn't an option."

Now baseball's loss is softball's gain in Gambrills.

After getting invitations to play tennis (she won a Maryland state championship when she was 12), run track or try lacrosse, Carlson opted to play softball.

"I always told Becky when her baseball days were over, feel free to come out and play softball," said Arundel coach Paul Yannuzzi. "She took a few days, did some soul-searching and came out. Her engine runs at one speed -- 100 percent. She's been a role model for hustle and has certainly fit in."

Carlson said she was fortunate her new teammates accepted her so quickly, considering she didn't join the team until the final day of cuts. She has had to make plenty of adjustments, such as looking for the release point of a pitch and shifting to play first base. But the biggest, without question, is not playing with the boys.

On Monday, while the softball team played Old Mill, the Arundel baseball team played on an adjacent field. "It was difficult looking over and seeing them play," she said. "The level of intensity is totally different."

Carlson is working on changing that.

After lining a single and scoring the Wildcats' first run of the season against Old Mill, she misplayed a routine pop-up at first. It was one of three Arundel errors in a fifth inning that helped the Patriots tie the score at 1.

"She asked me if she could talk to the team during the huddle between innings," Yannuzzi said. "She took responsibility for her error and then said 'That's not the way we play softball here, let's go.' The bottom of the fifth, we scored the winning run."

Senior captain Alisha Hepfer said Carlson has fit in perfectly with the No. 3-ranked Wildcats, strong contenders for a state title.

"She's a very skilled player with a lot of confidence," Hepfer said. "It will take her a little while to adjust to the pitching, but we love playing with her and she loves playing with us. It's no big deal."

Carlson, also a standout soccer player, said she didn't think playing baseball would be a big deal when she wanted to try out as a freshman. She had started playing T-ball when she was 7, batted fifth in the order for her Little League team at the age of 10 and later played for Gambrills Athletic Club and the Babe Ruth team.

She made junior varsity as a freshman, but county officials tried to steer her toward softball until County Superintendent Carol Parham intervened. Carlson became the first girl in Anne Arundel County to play baseball.

"I play soccer in the fall and then run track," Carlson said. "All that is fun and a challenge. But when the spring season came around my freshman and sophomore years -- March 1 -- that's when I would bear down. That was my challenge, on the baseball field competing."

This season, she'll bring the same approach to the softball field.

"She didn't play baseball because she wanted to prove anything. She played because she loves to play baseball," Yannuzzi said. "She's just another ballplayer. There's no notoriety and we don't dwell on it. This is just another chapter, another challenge, and this kid loves challenges."

Pub Date: 3/27/98

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