I started covering Arizona softball in 2017 and fell in love with the beat immediately. How could I have not? It was a young journalist’s dream.
The Wildcats were the No. 2 team in the country, they have a large, loyal following, and the storylines were endless.
Arizona won its first Pac-12 championship in 10 years. Katiyana Mauga broke Arizona’s all-time home run record. Future Olympian Danielle O’Toole threw her first career no-hitter. Hall of Fame coach Mike Candrea reached a milestone and his players doused him with ice water. (You expect me to remember which milestone? There’s too many to count.)
And while that season ended in heartbreak, it served as a solemn reminder that sports don’t always have a happy ending. That, as a journalist, you better be ready for anything—like a seventh-inning three-run homer destroying your recap.
Somewhere in our database you can find an unpublished article with a headline that reads “Arizona beats Baylor to reach first Women’s College World Series since 2010.”
Oh well. Two years later I got to publish that same headline, just replacing “Baylor” with “Ole Miss.”
That’s the thing about Arizona softball—every year it has a chance to win a national championship. How many programs in any sport can make that claim?
2020 was supposed to be the year the Wildcats added No. 9 to their trophy case. They were talented and experienced, returning almost every key player from the 2019 Women’s College World Series team. I’ll never forget my first trip to Hall of Fame Stadium, and I was very much looking forward to documenting Arizona’s inevitable return to Oklahoma City.
That won’t happen because of the coronavirus and that hurts, especially on a day like today.
Rather than scribbling this story from my couch, I would have been covering Arizona’s final regular-season home game, always a memorable occasion at Hillenbrand Stadium. This year more than any. That senior class was special. It still is special. Fortunately, they will be back for another year and get the sendoff they deserve.
But this lost season still stings. Not just for the reasons I mentioned, but because of all the little things that happen at Hillenbrand that you take for granted. That make it the only place you’d ever want to be on a spring weekend in southern Arizona, the time of year when you can count the number of clouds in the sky on one hand.
I made a list of some of those little things because it’s as close as I can get to experiencing Hillenbrand again. I sure do miss it.
- That “nice to see you again” nod I give the security guard when I enter through the right-field gate.
- The smell of ballpark food wafting through the concourse.
- John Fogerty’s “Centerfield” blaring as Arizona takes pregame infield, a drill that you can tell Candrea has perfected over the years. He’s a machine with that fungo.
- The pop of the glove and ping of the bat (duh)
- Linda Rondstat’s “Palomita de Ojos Negros” and “La Mariquita” booming as players warmup before the top and bottom of the first inning.
- Vantage West Credit Union Whiiiiiiiiiffs
- Those not-so-young fans that chide the umpire after every borderline call that doesn’t go Arizona’s way.
- Those same fans loudly booing anytime the opposing coach makes a mound visit.
- That lady that always yells “c’mon, just get a hit!” like it’s that easy.
- Climbing that ridiculously steep ladder to get into the first- and third-base camera wells.
- Snapping 400 pictures with my Canon only to keep 20. (Hey, I’m still learning this whole photography thing.)
- Scurrying from the third-base camera well, to behind home plate, to the first-base camera well so I can capture different angles of the action.
- Wondering why I wore long sleeves when the sun’s out.
- Then being glad I did when it starts to set.
- Those random press box conversations with Kim Doss, Troy Hutchison, Jacob Mennuti and John McKelvey. Sometimes we even talk about the game.
- Bothering sports information director Danny Martinez for some obscure stat.
- Trying to determine if a misplayed grounder is a hit or error.
- Wondering if it’s OK to mention that an Arizona pitcher has a no-hitter.
- Getting blamed for it being broken up.
- Gawking at those foul balls that come oh-so-close to hitting parked cars.
- The “oooos” when one of them actually strikes.
- Wondering if I should tweet about a scoring play or wait until the inning is over in case there’s more action.
- Parents explaining a play to their young daughters who dream of playing at the Division I level one day.
- That mad dash down from the press box to left-field foul line so we can grab players for postgame interviews before they escape to the clubhouse.
- The players patiently taking reporters through some of the biggest moments of the game (and their careers), even though you know they’d rather be celebrating with friends and family.
- Noticing how certain players have grown so much over their college careers, both as a player and person.
- Candrea’s candid postgame analysis. He’s never one to sugarcoat anything.
- Candrea-isms. Like “pressure is a privilege” and “be where your feet are.” They are applicable to all aspects of life.
- Arizona players signing autographs for young fans after the game, no matter the final score.
- The smiles on those kids’ faces after they got to share a moment with one of their heroes.
- Thanking a fan for saying “I liked that article you wrote” even though I have no idea which article they’re referring to.
- Walking to my car after filing my recap, already thinking about next game’s storylines.
- Those sunsets.