If it were a movie the sun would be rising over a dew covered luscious field of green grass. One by one the camera would move from face to face. As it panned out you would begin getting the bigger picture, the picture of a ball team. Soon you would begin realizing that they were one of many, warming up for the battles that would unfold before you on the big screen. Soon the heart touching orchestra music would fade and the camera would begin meandering through it all as you heard the faint voices of the coaches and the players. It would finally rest on our heroine as you started hearing the music she was listening to. As she completed her mental preparations for the day, she’d remove the ear buds and put them away along with her iPod, pump her fist and storm out of the dugout with the loud noise that only cleats on concrete can make.

But this is my post, not a movie and as I approached the cloud covered, frost bitten fields yesterday in Duluth, GA and could see my breath the picture was quite different from a movie I can assure you. In the movies the weather is always perfect, and you know who the heroine will be. In real life the weather is often brutal, and at 8:00 AM you have no idea how the games will unfold. But you see that’s entirely the beauty of it. The fact that the players have to compete against each other under such diverse conditions, and accept and play through whatever situations come there way, and at the end of the day when the sun has set, and the briskness of the autumn air has set back in, the ones that rose above it all, the ones that understand it is a team of heroines and not just one are the ones standing tall. The ones that you just jump out of your seat, with your cold knees, and your stiff back and you throw your glove covered hands around. They are the ones with the tears of joy welling up in their eyes because they are going to bed forever changed by what they did on that day. That single cold, fall day when they were the David facing their Goliath, and they delivered the fatal blow.

The fatal blow in this case being a 7 run, late, inning marked by lots of singles, bunts moving runners and of course the gratuitous fist pumping Grand Slam just for the folks in Hollywood. What I love about this game, and the amazing players I have the privilege of knowing and working with is that those kind of innings never happen at 8:00 AM, they are always at the end of the day. Because comebacks like I witnessed are never marked by a single player, it has to be a team effort. To the 18U Gold Duluth Wildcats I say:

Thank you for the opportunity to watch a team of girls who despise losing fight until the end, never having given up.

Thank you for the opportunity to watch a team of girls who never turned down the throttle on their intensity just because it was cold and late.

Thank you for the opportunity to watch a team of girls who always lifted up and never doubted each other.

Thank you for …. THE PERFECT DAY.

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How can the Softball Cruise Clinic possibly get better?

By video taping it for the world to see of course.

That’s right I just got the news that Gary Leland of Softball.TV will be joining us for the cruise and will be video taping segments for his show so that the entire world will get a glimpse what you and I will be partaking in first hand.

That’s so cool.

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The Buford Wicked that is. Although they had played a rough tournament yesterday most of the players made it out for a custom team clinic and every player gave me 100% of their attention and 100% effort. While I’ve worked with 1000’s of girls it always inspires me to look into a girls eyes before we start a diving session and see fear, then watch her kick fear in the butt and do it anyway. I got to watch every player that was their do just that. Full speed, flat out, head first dives into bases. In the words of Boston Rob from Survivors that’s just “WICKED” AWESOME. Of course if any of you read this, don’t think for a minute that the next time I come out to work with you that I’m going to take it any easier on you.

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If you know me at all you know that I LOVE teaching girls the game of fastpitch softball. So it may shock you that teaching softball wasn’t the thing that I loved most about the recent softball clinic cruise. The thing that I absolutely enjoyed the most was just getting to see the girls and their families just hanging out and having a good time together.

Usually when I get to see parents it is in between them running one child to one practice, swinging by McDonald’s with the others and then rushing to get to lessons at my house. When I see the girls they’ve been stuck in a mini-van fighting with their little brother/sister for 30 minutes on their way to my house, and they’ve fought with their parents about some school project. On the cruise what I got to see was families coming together and enjoying life for a change instead of being torn apart by the hussle and bussle that surrounds normal life in the fastpitch lane.

While not everyone can afford to do a softball clinic cruise to relax together, I hope that you will consider stopping to smell the roses as a family in some way, shape or form. Set aside one night per week where there is nothing on the calendar but time to just relax together. Go to a park. Or next time you have a softball tournament in another town leave a day early and go do some sight seeing together before the chaos begins. You just might find out that at 2 miles an hour everyone in the family gets along much better than they do at 100 miles an hour.

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Game 2 for me at yesterday’s Georgia Tech Buzz Classic was between the Georgia State Panthers and the Bowling Green Falcons. I went to college not far from Bowling Green, which is up north in Ohio so I was excited to see them play ball way down here close to my new home. More exciting for me though was watching one of my former students, Emily Althafer, as a collegiate player. When Emily was younger her nickname was Elmo (like the Sesame Street character) but of course I’d never call her that now because she’s all grown up and everything. 😉

As a student Emily was one that worked really, really, really hard. I actually worked with her mother so I got to hear the news really quickly when Coach Heck extended the offer. It was a pleasure to be there and experience signing day with her at North Gwinnett. So you can imagine how much I enjoyed finally having the time free from all of my other activities to get out and see her play. She is quite a young lady. (Of course I say that about all of my girls.)

As background for the picture you’d have to know that Emily played ball for North Gwinnett High School and the young lady to her right is Erin Collins a former rival from Collins Hill High School. In case you were interested … Georgia State beat Bowling Green by a score of 8-0.

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Yesterday I had the pleasure of watching the Mercer Bears as they played a game against the Rhode Island Rams. The game ended 1-0 with a dramatic game winning hit in the bottom of the 7’th by Holly Oglesbee. Before I get to that I should explain why I chose to go watch the Mercer Bears in the first place, and why it was such a joy to see it ended in dramatic fashion by Holly.

Mercer is coached by a really neat guy named Mike Raynor who’m I’ve had the pleasure of knowing through Higher Ground Softball camps. Each year I’ve enjoyed spending time with Mike in Columbus for the Select Camp as well as for a Super Camp that Higher Ground does at Mercer. At the camp at Mercer this January Mike introduced one of his senior leaders, Holly and shared all of the accomplishments that she has garnered during her previous 3 years at the school. He then asked Holly to share; and her message was pretty simple “I don’t really know when I was recruited. All I know is that I played my hardest and did my best during every practice and every game. I guess Coach Raynor must have been there and seen one of them. I encourage all of you to just play your hardest every time you step onto the field because you don’t know who might be watching.” And that was pretty much it. You could pay money to hear big time speakers who couldn’t sum up the heart of what girls should do any better than that. Now back to the game …

Both teams battled back and forth through a nail biter. In the bottom of the 6’th Mercer had a couple of runners on but just couldn’t push them across. In the top of 7’th the Rams got some base runners and threatened, but the Bears defense held strong. In the bottom of the 7’th they again dug in and got runners on and with 2 outs Holly came to the plate. Holly ended up getting a great pitch to hit hard and she did her job as she had done all game. In this instance though the ball found the hole, as though with eyes, and the sole run came across the plate as the Bears won. What you will see in the video is Holly doing a great job of turning the pitch without rolling her wrists over, you’ll see the umpire move to get out of the way, the runn from first avoid running into the ball and you’ll see the second baseman for the Rams lay flat out to try and stop the ball from getting to the outfield. Then you’ll see the triumphant winning run come in and pounce on home plate. Then you’ll see what was perhaps the neatest moment of the game; Holly’s mom jumps up right in front of me cheering for her daughter and the team. What I love about softball is that even when the girls are seniors in college, their parents still come and cheer for their “baby girls” and game winning hits senior year still count like they did in tee-ball. Don’t worry about missing anything, because I shot this video at 600 frames per second, so the 4 seconds it took to happen, will unravel for you over 1 minute of time.

What a pleasure to be there and see such an exciting win by the Mercer Bears.
What a joy to see a young lady who truly pours her heart into every play and every bat of every game be the one to come through when she was needed.
What a blessing to see a parent who will still stand up and cheer even this late in their little girls career.

You gotta love this game.

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You would think that as long as I’ve been doing instruction I would have seen it all by now. But the truth is each time I do a camp or a clinic like the recent Softball Cruise Clinic I am still amazed at the young ladies that play this sport.

I met one exceptional young lady who plays High School ball in Iowa. Where she lives their high school season (state playoffs) don’t end until the end of July, even though school is over in early June. That means that while other girls are off enjoying the summer and working on their tans, or working at the mall to make spending money, she is still training and practicing hard. As if that wasn’t enough she knows that by playing for her school it hurts her chances to play ASA travel ball and qualify for nationals. But she’s committed to helping her school win, despite the personal sacrifice. I admire committment a whole bunch.

Another young lady had a couple of killer movement pitches, but was as humble as they come. I admire girls who’s character is as strong as their playing is a whole bunch.

I spent a lot of time talking to another young lady who is a catcher. During our sports court day the wind was blowing with what seemed like hurricane force winds that I hadn’t experienced while outdoors before. She caught for 3-4 different pitchers who’s pitches did all sorts of very unnatural things in the wind and this girl was like a machine going after every single pitch. She jumped in the air, blocked on her knees, slid 5 feet sideways everything to keep the pitches in front of her. She kept that up for nearly 2 solid hours and never once did she complain. I admire players that leave it all on the field every single pitch and thrive even during adversity a whole bunch.

Two of my players accompanied us on the cruise and during our day on the field in the Bahamas helped me demonstrate diving. If you know me, you know that any girl that I would call “my player” is the kind of girl that would love to Get Dirty so the helping me dive shouldn’t be a surprise and wouldn’t be impressive by itself. What impressed me about both of these young ladies that are very special to me is that the field we had to work on was basically small pieces of gravel. I’m not talking about brick dust, I mean small pieces of gravel. The kind that just digs into your palm, and your belly. But neither complained a bit on the field. They just smiled as though it didn’t hurt a bit. At dinner I finally confessed to them that it hurt me worse than ever to dive on that gravel and they both confessed the same. When I asked why they hadn’t let me know it hurt, they both said the same basic thing … “I knew that if I showed the pain the other girls wouldn’t get over their fears and do it. So I just kept the pain to myself.” Girls that play through pain and sacrifice for the betterment of their teammates, or in this case just random girls from around the world, oh yeah I admire that a whole bunch.

As long as God continues blessing with me amazing young softball players that continue to amaze me I’ll continue doing clinics/camps/lessons.

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No I’m not sick.
No nobody hit me in the head during lessons.

The reason that I enjoyed it was that I got to see the look on Brittany Osmon’s face when she found her wedding dress. Brittany was an amazing ball player on the field before college and during her career at Florida State, but more importantly she is a wonderful person off the field. She has tremendous faith in God, and is just a shear joy to be around. So while my heart ached that the camp got rained out, it was filled to overflowing with the knowledge that Brittany found the dress she will wear as she begins her new life as Mrs. Graham Gano.

Sometimes it’s important for us to realize that the fields will be there next week, next month, next year, but there are some moments in life that are just to precious to miss and this was one of them. Go Brittany. You rock.

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I wasn’t really sure myself until this weekend. Samantha Banister (formerly of The University of Arizona, 2 time Women’s College World Series Champion, and professional softball player with the Akron Racers) came to town for my cross training softball camp. There is no question in anyones mind about what kind of athlete Sam is, as she has proven that she is top notch. However, my wife and I had a dinner planned with her and I fully expected to discover a really “gritty” kind of girl who was all about softball and would represent my typical “Get Dirty” motto.

Instead what we discovered was an amazing young lady in Sam who we now know to be a true “girly-girl.” There is no question that between the lines the “ball player” in her will kick some butt, but she’ll also look good while she’s doing it. So how “girly” is girly? Well for Sam that involves designing her own cleats for next year which will be white/pink and have rhinestones. She’s already designed her own brand of headbands with some friends, her color of choice … Pink of course. She’s also designin a line of sports bras for softball players complete with a compartment to hold chapstick. No I’m not kidding, according to her it’s a must. She has short hair but in games you’ll see her with long french braids or pony tails. How? Hair extensions because as she puts it “you have to look on national tv.”

So why am I posting a blog about something like this? Because I’m all about girls being “tough” between the lines. But that means that they need to focus and they need to commit their heart. It doesn’t mean that they have to leave their feminine side at the door on their way to the field. It was very refreshing to meet a player who proves that you can be the best at both. So for all of you “girly-girls” out there you just keep being yourselves. Nothing like adding insult to injury by having a pink bow in your hair, chapstick on, wearing makeup and having pink cleats when you jack one over the fence.

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