Sliding Into A New Season

After a long winter, a Carroll softball team finally hits the field

April 11, 2005|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

The sound of cheering starts in the parking lot of Mayeski Park.

It is 70 degrees and still sunny at 6 p.m. And after months of being cramped inside Carroll County school gyms that smell like sweat and floor wax, softball practice is on a real field tonight.

The dirt is slightly damp - ideal conditions for sliding into second base and standing up with the streak of dirt that shows it was worth the effort. A fly ball lands on turf that from a distance looks like green velvet.

Coach Eddie Beane - a wisecracking Massachusetts native who works on his playbook and lineups during lunch breaks - has his team stand in a line by the pitching mound. He shouts One! ... Two! ... Three! as he passes each girl, as if he's playing Duck, Duck, Goose.

The girls divide into groups to practice catching balls in the infield - the kind that sail past the pitcher and land just out of reach of the shortstop.

"Gloves out front, ladies," Coach Eddie shouts. "Nice fire," he says, complimenting their hustle. It comes out "firah."

Here in Winfield, just outside Sykesville, the thwack of the ball hitting the bat and the pleasant thump it makes against a worn leather glove are the sounds of spring. This is competitive fast-pitch softball for girls 10 years old and under.

The sport is best known for pitches served up windmill-style. Victoria Sobota, who at the moment is on the mound, begins with the ball out front - sort of a bowler's stance to start. Then, she winds her arm up and around and lets out an underhanded pitch that soars. The positioning looks cartoonish to the uninitiated, but these balls are delivered at speeds of about 40 mph.

Called the Maryland Stars, the league, run by veteran sports enthusiast Glen Warholic, has seven tournament teams for girls whose skills are beyond the average recreation-league level. Practice is two nights a week and on weekends. They are divided into teams by age.

The oldest group's players are 18 years old. The youngest player, Emily Speierman of Columbia, is 7.

Giggles erupt on first base. The team is in line - all wearing nearly identical shorts, T-shirts and sun visors - to practice stealing a base.

Coach Eddie - a 56-year-old father of three and project officer of federal homeless programs - is demonstrating the art of the diving back to first base. It's more like a belly flop.

Each player takes a turn mimicking the coach's graceless move. "Fingers out," he reminds them. "See how crocked my fingers are? This is from stealing second base 15 years ago."

"Fifteen?" Steve Burriss, an assistant coach, shouts from third base.

"OK, maybe 30 years," says Coach Eddie, who is fond of phrases such as "Whoa! Hot tomato!"

Lauren Stricker points her right foot off first base, but then changes her position. "You had it right the first time, brunette Lauren," Coach Eddie says.

On this team, there is also a "blond Lauren," Lauren Hicks, and several players nicknamed "Boo," including the coach's 9-year-old daughter, Megan.

One of them says, "I've got dirt in my shoes."

"That's a good thing," Coach Eddie tells her.

While pitchers take turns on the mound, the rest of the girls work on fielding and batting into a collapsible blue net that looks a little like a soccer goal.

Whack. Thwack. Crack. "Heads up!" someone shouts. A stray ball lands on the home-team bench, which is empty at the moment, except for a few lukewarm bottles of Evian and Gatorade.

Finally catcher Emily Franklin, a fourth-grader from Westminster, stands up and trots over to Coach Eddie to tell him that the straps on her shin guards are digging into the backs of her knees. Coach Eddie pulls a handkerchief from his pocket and places it between the buckle and her red skin. Then he adds, "I haven't even used it, really."

It's time for pushups. Coach Eddie tells blond Lauren that it's her turn to the lead the song - always sung to the tune of an Army marching chant. As they struggle to push themselves up from the mud, the other players join in:

Momma, Momma, can't you see

What fast-pitch softball's done to me.

My body aches, I need a rest,

but that's what it takes to be the best.

The sky is turning shades of pastel pink and melon. Monet couldn't have done better. The other practice fields are clearing out. Players are tossing batting helmets into piles and racing to waiting minivans and sport utility vehicles. The jungle gym near the parking lot - which just a few minutes ago was covered with wriggling, shrieking preschoolers - is empty now.

It is totally dark and nearly 8 p.m. before Coach Eddie is ready to stop drilling the fundamentals of softball into his ponytailed players. One more lap around the bases.

When they've finished sprinting, the coach stops "Boo" and feels her forehead for sweat. It's sufficiently damp.

Stumbling in the sulfur glow of a distant field light, the players make their way to the sidelines to be reminded of the season's first doubleheader. "I just want to thank you guys for your hard work tonight," Coach Eddie says. "That was super hitting tonight. We have more work to do, though. ... Practice hard. Be proud of who you are. Stars on three."

The girls huddle together, piling their hands on top of each others. In unison, they shout "Stars!" and throw out their arms in glee.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.