After flying into Gainesville late Wednesday night, I met my partner, former Arizona National Player of the Year Jenny Dalton-Hill, and some of our crew. On Thursday, we had a meeting in the morning and then spent the afternoon watching the teams practice and talking to their coaches. The rest of the time was spent studying!
The day of practices and interviews felt, at times, like being thrown into the deep end of the softball pool. I think (I hope!) I figured out fairly quickly how to swim in this pool and do justice to all the hard work and commitment everybody put in to prepare for this weekend. Although it was our first day working together, it felt like Jenny and I were on the same page about how to handle things, and I think we're going to team up well this weekend.
The conversations with all four coaches and with three Florida players were great, but because of a sudden cloudburst, we had extended time with first-year Hofstra head coach Larissa Anderson and veteran Florida Atlantic coach Joan Joyce, and both conversations were fascinating.
Anderson was brilliant at toeing the line between respecting Hofstra's incredible, championship tradition under Bill Edwards, with whom she worked for years, and discussing some of the changes that have gone into the "new era" of Hofstra softball. One of her descriptions of players putting on championship-game jerseys gave me goosebumps.#Gators @stewartkels7, @lhaeger17 and @KirstiMerritt visited with @espn's @JennyDaltonHill and @jtyardley today: pic.twitter.com/NHxIgpXgG7— Gator Softball (@GatorZoneSBall) May 14, 2015
Joyce reminded me of Rice baseball head coach Wayne Graham. Both are decidedly old-school, both encourage their catchers to call pitches rather than rely on signs relayed from the dugout, and both will answer one of your questions with whatever answer they want, even if it's only tangentially related. Not that we mind! A Joan Joyce tangent is well worth an admission fee, and we got in for free.
Having played elite basketball, volleyball, golf, and softball, Joyce has no shortage of stories, including this gem:
“I always joke about this. The thing that made me famous was striking out Ted Williams. I had a record of 753 wins, 42 losses in my career. 150 no-hitters, 50 perfect games, and what made me famous was striking out Ted Williams, and that was probably the easiest thing I’ve ever had to do.
I gave him 15 minutes, and he fouled off three pitches.
He had a luncheon in the afternoon, and he was sitting next to my coach, and he was telling my coach how he didn’t like to hit the high/inside pitch. My coach said, 'This is what Williams doesn’t like to hit: He doesn’t like the high, tight pitch.' I said, 'It’s a good thing you’re the coach and I’m the pitcher, because Ted Williams is not getting a high, inside pitch. The guy’s got the best eyes in baseball, and you want me to throw my 12-inch softball in his eyes?' I said, 'Are you crazy?'
So I’d give him the rise ball, but I’d throw it out of the zone, and he fouled off a couple of those. He didn’t chase many, though, but when he did hit a higher pitch, he fouled it back, and then I just got him on my drop. I’d just throw drop after drop, and he couldn’t come close to hitting those."
So am I ready for some softball? We'll find out at 3:30 pm (ET) on ESPN3!