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    Out Of Left Field: Hope Howell Blog
    Out in Left Field: Hope Howell Blog

    Out in Left Field: Hope Howell Blog

    April 27, 2010


    The day before we played Southern Illinois, reporters from the local papers came by and asked what we expected from the Salukis. Last year, we only beat them by one run in extra innings and this year they were coming off a loss to Illinois State in a 3-game series. But after coming off an offensively stingy sweep at Penn State, the team felt we were due for a big offensive game.

    I feel the SIU game- much like Loyola and Northwestern- shows the biggest differences between our team in 2009 and in 2010. It's not that we want the games more- because that'd be impossible to exceed from last year- but we just understand what it takes to get us there. Yes, we're excited for every game, but our composure and confidence keeps us from feeling pressured on defense or becoming overanxious at the plate. {I know, I know, I should practice what I preach *cough, my Wisconsin strikeout, cough*} But both sides of our game feed off each other and give us momentum into each inning, setting the bar high, while still playing within ourselves.

    We were hitting throughout our lineup and were up by 7 when the SALUKIS scored one in the 6th. {Danielle} Vaji came up big with a bases-clearing walk-off hit in the bottom of the 6th, sealing the deal and our in-state domination. Chalk it up! W.


    It's a running joke on our team that you can always tell when someone's parents are coming to a game. Suddenly that person is like Mr. Rogers, whistling show tunes and practically glowing. I'd be lying if I said the rule didn't particularly apply to out-of-state players. There's just something about you and your family sharing the same TIME ZONE that gives you an extra pep in your step. And on the biggest Illinois Softball weekend of the year- World's Largest Softball Tailgate- parents are icing on the cake.

    This weekend I found out I'm guilty of it too. Even a dreary and rainy day like Friday didn't keep me down. As soon as my mom shot me the "Ok, at the gate" text, I was giddy-I gave people the right of way on the Quad and caught myself actually amused by the rhythm of my soaked tennis shoes squishing. Bouncing my knee in class watching the clock, I was praying my parent's flight wasn't delayed or cancelled from the torrential downpour.

    During the week, I made sure to cover the pre-parental visit essentials.

    a) Corral all hospital bills from my food allergies (long story) so they can handle the insurance stuff

    b) Clean apartment*
    *= strategically place mascara and lip gloss on my bedroom dresser so my mom thinks I still wear it

    c) Practice in mirror: "No Dad, I don't need cash for groceries....well, ok....if you insist."

    Saturday morning, the team went to the dedication of the Martin Softball Complex. I don't think we could have found a more compatible family to help sponsor our team. Honestly, the Martins pretty much embody our Illinois Softball family. They're so positive and have a great sense of humor, as well as tremendous pride and love for the Orange and Blue. The team is already so fortunate to have all the privileges- facilities, gear, etc. - that we do; to add our fantastic locker room is truly more than I ever imagined. When you're 8 years old playing in the yard dreaming of playing college ball, you never think "and my locker will be polished wood, not scrap metal." So when your locker room looks like something out of a fairy tale, it's easy to be reminded how we're all living the dream. The locker room is home, and it was incredibly moving to hear Ms. Alice say she knows she made a good investment in us. It's clearly not a coincidence that the year we got the locker room our team was tighter than ever, resulting in our first postseason appearance in something like over 4 years. To the Martin family- thank you, and know we'll forever remember your generosity and encouragement.

    As far as the game goes, there's no other way to say it: We were straight gunning for them. Not only did we have a small time frame to actually get the game in before the bottom fell out the clouds, but we could smell popcorn and burgers coming from the tents blaring tailgate music and could hear people laughing and tops popping. I think I speak for the team when I say our mentality was as follows: those kids in red were the only thing between us and eating brats with our friends and family. As soon as the first pitch was thrown, get out of our way! ...and have my lawn chair ready.

    Sure enough, the ball game went from 0-90 mph. The crowd was obviously less than expected from the weather, but for those loyal ones that came, we wanted to give them a show!! Moni [Monica Perry] set the tone for us, shutting them down the entire game and pitched a one hitter, while Mer [Meredith Hackett] left no doubt, hitting back to back homers and tallying 4 out of our total 6 RBIs. We couldn't finish the game early, but we finished all 7 with record pace. After rushing to join them, the tailgaters didn't disappoint. Because we had to start the game at noon instead of 3, there were only three tailgates in the lot the entire day. It was totally eerie to me too because they was set up in sort of a past, present, and future construction. The On-Deck Circle had a huge spread, followed by current players' parents neighboring tailgate and last, but definitely not least, the alumni in a camper. Normally, it's nice to see that lot full of tailgaters from the community, but this time it was about quality, not quantity. I knew everyone! And everybody kept alternating tailgates; it was like musical chairs. Everyone out on the lawn while it drizzled, then when it started raining cats and dogs, you sprint to the nearest cover and mingle with the people under the tent with you. Except for Acon [Ashley Conrad], our ever-so-competitive centerfielder, challenging anyone brave enough to come out into the pouring rain and play her in bags.

    Ok, one last thing: a shout out to the alumni.

    If you wonder if we know you, we do. We've heard countless stories-the good, the bad, the ugly- from current players (former ones now), coaches, etc. and they just keep getting passed down from class to class like fairy tales, except instead of bedtime stories, we tell them post-practice to freshmen at dinner when they swipe us into the dorms. Yes, some of it gets lost in translation, but the moral stays the same.

    Ex. "I can't remember who did it, or how long they had to run, but just know-you better not."

    I feel that just like it's the upperclassmen's job to tell the stories about those who came before them- and the experiences they've had here as well- it's the underclassmen's job to soak them all up, and pass 'em down to the next graduating class; not only to learn from your mistakes and keep history from repeating itself, but to find reassurance that people can relate and have actually survived. So don't worry. Your legacy is intact. ☺

    As far as your tailgate goes, I'm sure you guys feel like you're falling into a time-warp, but to me it's like looking into a crystal ball. It gives me peace of mind to know that you guys have parted ways, some even on completely different paths, but whenever you're all together, y'all can pick up where you left off and it's like you never left. And I cannot wait (off the record, of course) to join you.

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