Covering the Florida Gators softball team during the summer of 2011 was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Not only was this my first beat ever, it took me back to another rewarding time.
During my first two years of high school, my parents enrolled my younger sister, Sheriza, into playing optimist softball in our hometown of Pembroke Pines, Fla. Sheri started when she was six years old and played up until her second season of travel ball with the Pembroke Pines Thunder when our family called it quits.
It’s unfortunate, but travel ball isn’t for everyone. There’s plenty of time, money and, well, even more time involved in the process. Without a doubt, the experience was very rewarding for our family and me in particular.
I felt connected to my sister in a way I never thought I could be with her through sports, even as a teenager and her at 8 years young.
When I rarely got the time off on the weekends from working at Champs Sports, I was elated to get the chance to see my sister in action, see her demeanor out on that field, and bask in the fact that she took whatever advice I may have given her after a rough at-bat or error to heart.
My sister loved being on that field and was damn passionate about it, too. The same passion every athlete shares with one another. I was fortunate enough to share it with my own blood.
Covering my first Gators softball at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium took me back to it all.
The orange clay on the field. The barrel of the aluminum bat. But most of all, the fans in the stands and all the cheers. Like every sport, family is the most important aspect of it all. Your family members are your first fans. They’re always there for you no matter what and as time progresses, your family grows. New members join like your teammates, their families and friends, and eventually the fans that come and show support.
Looking back on the experience, it’s kinda funny and ironic. The most rewarding aspect of it was getting to go to Oklahoma City to cover the team during its fourth consecutive trip to the Women’s College World Series. When I first started to cover the team, it was at the beginning of its six-game losing streak, the longest under head coach Tim Walton – a time where reaching the World Series seemed very far from happening.
But Walton and the Gators did it. And they almost won it all.
This post, I guess, is a thank you of sorts to the entire team, especially those I’ve gotten a chance to speak with, and those who have helped me along the way.
Thanks Tim for all the interviews, putting me in my place in some occasions, and for appreciating my work with the team. I’m not sure if you’ve ever read a word I wrote, but your wave to me in the stands when I sat in at a NPF game in Orlando was much appreciated.
Thanks to Kelsey Bruder, Megan Bush and Aja Paculba. You guys were really great to be around and even better people. I was really happy I got to run into you at one of our favorite places in Gainesville to say this in person.
To my South Florida comrades, Tiffany DeFelice and Stephanie Brombacher, thank you as well. TD, you’re mom’s cookies are the best. I see where you get your humility from. To Steph, I’ll always feel horrible for asking you that question at the end of the season that made you cry. Sorry.
To former Gators Stacey Nelson and Francesca Enea, it was an honor meeting you both. Fran, thanks for opening up about Ian Lockwood and your appreciation of that story I wrote. It was an honor to do that story. Stacey, you are an incredible person and I’m glad I got to see why. Thanks again for grabbing my beer and helping yourself to a gulp.
Thanks to my amazing grandmother and Gator Country’s Ray Hines for funding my trip.
And lastly, thanks to my good friends Kelly Reynolds, Tim Casey and Bryan Holt. Kelly, you were the first SID I’ve ever worked with and the best. Thanks for making my first beat easy. Tim, you’ve done so much for me during our time together at Gator Country. I wouldn’t be where I am without you and thank you for that. Bryan, OKC didn’t know what it had coming. I’m really glad we got to share that experience together and I’d do it again in the heartbeat, except I’m driving.
Thanks everyone. I wish you all the best.