Mission impossible: hitting a softball

Mission impossible: hitting a softball

Sean Hoey

I threw on my cleats and put on my batting gloves. I walked out of the dugout and strutted towards the plate. I smoothed out the soft dirt in the batter’s box and dug into to face the pitcher. I visualized hitting the ball hard, just like I do for every at-bat. I go through this process about 250 times a year. I am used to it, I would even dare to call it second nature. But this was no ordinary at-bat. I had never faced a pitcher like this before. I was going to step into the box and try my luck against softball pitchers Sr. Kaylie McConnell and Jr. Krista Carter.

  Calling this a challenge would be an understatement. In order for me to have any success preparation was going to be key. To start, I watched at-bats of professional softball players. Seeing these helped me with my mindset going into the experiment. The softball players approached their at-bats completely different to a baseball player. When I was watching, it seemed like they just swung at any pitch that was even close to the plate, no matter what kind of pitch came towards them. Plus these hitters took very short and compact swings all the time, instead of baseball where a short compact swing is typically saved for 2 strikes.

 In baseball, hitters will let a pitch go right down the middle if it is not the type of pitch they were looking for. I knew that this experiment had been done before with professionals so I knew that I needed to watch the film on these experiments. I found out that future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols squared off against international star Jennie Finch. Watching the video made me extremely nervous for my matchup. Finch struck out Pujols on 5 pitches, and he didn’t even come close to making contact.

  I set it up that I could drive over after our baseball practice to the softball fields. I was able to recruit Sr. Bryce Thomas, Sr. Solomon Gray, and Jr. Tucker Fritz to come with me and try their hand against the softball pitchers as well.

  After practice, we headed over to the softball fields to meet our destiny. When we arrived we found the entire team waiting to watch this unique matchup. I asked some of them how they thought I would do, and the opinion was pretty much unanimous: I would not do well. Even with all the doubt, we were still optimistic. We thought that we could at least put some in play, maybe even hit a couple hard. Walking up to the field and seeing a fence about 205 feet long, we definitely had thought of going yard.

  As we strapped on our batting gloves, the girls took a seat in the bleachers to get a front row seat to view the action. The first pitcher was McConnell. She stepped into the pitching circle and took about five warm-up pitches. These were important for two reasons: it allowed McConnell to get warmed up so she could give us her best stuff, and the warmups allowed us to get a few looks before we stepped into the box. She finished her warm-ups, and I was the first one to hit. I strolled up to the box more nervous than I had ever been for any at-bat before.

  This at-bat was going to be completely different. A baseball pitcher throws from 60 feet away, while a softball pitcher throws from only 43 feet away. The shorter distance was going to cut down reaction time dramatically. Plus a softball pitcher throws underhand, and a baseball pitcher throws overhand, creating a contrasting angle.

  It was finally time to give it a go. McConnell wound up and delivered the first pitch. It broke sharply outside. I swung hard which ended up making me look like a fool. All I could hear was the rest of the softball team laughing in the bleachers. I could hear calls of “swing shorter” or “swing down on the ball” from the girls. I had not yet adjusted my swing to the shorter distance and less reaction time.

  Before the next pitch, I mentally prepared myself for the swing adjustment. I was down 0-1 in the count. McConnell wound up and delivered her next pitch; the rise ball sailed high and outside. It was tricky to lay off this pitch because I had never seen it up close and personal. I knew I was going to end up seeing a couples risers, but I don’t know if I was quite ready for the first one.

  1-1. The next pitch was on the outer half but it was straight so I took a hack at it. I fouled the ball off down the right field line. The girls in the bleachers went silent. They were not even expecting me to make contact with the ball at all. Even with the excitement of making contact, I still had to finish the at-bat, and I was down in the count.

  1-2. The next two pitches were well out of the zone so I let them go by. One pitch was another rise ball and the other was a slider. I had worked my way back into the at-bat.

  3-2. A full count. The pitch was a changeup that was on the outer half of the plate. I swung and hit a soft ground ball back up through the middle. It would have been a seeing eye single right through the middle, but had it been hit anywhere in the infield it would have been an out.

  Once the other guys saw that we could actually make contact against McConnell, they took their turn. At first, they took some funny swings, but they settled in and took some better swings. Nevertheless, they never made solid contact.

  Next, we were going to take some swings against Carter. She got into the pitching circle to start her warm-ups. We noticed some obvious differences between the two pitchers. Carter’s delivery was much more shifty compared to McConnell’s smooth windup. Also, we noticed that Carter threw the ball even harder, so we knew we were going to have less time to react to the pitch. Nevertheless, we had to do it.

  With confidence from the McConnell at-bat, I stepped in against Carter. She wound up and delivered; it was much faster and I swung late and grounded the ball softly foul down the first base line. I was down in the count early.

  0-1. The next pitches were very similar. They were both balls but were very close to the outside corner. It was fast and had a sharp break, so there was no chance that I was going to make contact.

  2-1. I had worked my way back into an advantageous count. The next pitch clipped the outside corner. It was slower than the other but still was very sharp breaking.

  2-2. I was down to two strikes. Carter delivered the pitch on the inside corner. I had to protect the zone so I swung. I made soft contact and grounded the ball towards where the shortstop would have been.

  I definitely exceeded my expectations for the experiment. Even though I didn’t go yard, actually made contact, which I thought that I would not do throughout the whole experiment. With all the at-bats, the baseball players only had two strikeouts. To see McConnell and Carter in action, go watch the girls play Thursday against Hudsonville or Friday against Wyoming. And to see how my at-bats went check it out here.