Coral Seymour Memorial Park hasn't even opened for the year and the high school baseball and softball seasons are still in their infancy, but I've already got a strong nominee for at-bat of the year.
The entry came April 30 by Soldotna softball third baseman Mysteri Turnbull in a nonconference game in Soldotna.
Normally, the big at-bats come in the biggest games, but this was not a normal situation. A sheet of hail had fallen that afternoon, forcing the game vs. Dimond into a late start that would limit it to less than an hour of playing time. Further, the nonconference game meant almost nothing.
Turnbull came to bat in the bottom of the second inning with her team trailing 4-3. It was about 38 degrees at that point, with pure cold wind strolling across the field and straight into the bones.
My fingers were among the bones affected, so I was not keeping a pitch count. But I do know Turnbull fouled off at least four pitches. And these were not sweet-sounding shots off the meat of the bat. They were dull, resonating slough-offs that instantly sting and numb the hands.
Each time Turnbull went back to grab her bat, I increasingly expected her to strike out not because of talent, but because of subconscious motor survival. The old adage that a child will touch a hot stove just once had been thrown out the window. Turnbull had touched that stove at least four times.
And for what? A nonconference game that would go just three innings. I had to admit, if it was me and my hands, I would have accepted the punch-out.
(OK. I'll cop to it. This isn't a hypothetical. I've played spring ball in Wisconsin and accepted a few whiffs after some vicious, vibrating, skin-splitting foul balls myself.)
Turnbull finally grounded out to second. But in the process, Soldotna's No. 8 hitter showed there would not be any easy outs for opposing pitchers this year.
"That was great," Soldotna coach Dave Cleveland said of the at-bat. "She's a sophomore and we've brought her up and we're putting a lot of heat on her. She's doing great."
Cleveland said another good example of SoHi's improved offense is No. 9 hitter Brittnie Thayer, who had two hits in the sixth inning to key the 12-run outburst in a 14-3 victory over Kenai on Monday. Cleveland said Thayer has made huge strides at the plate this year. "We've got a lineup where everybody can put the bat on the ball this year," Cleveland said.
Even when it means gnawing, numbing pain.
Ryan Townsend recently became the fifth Kenai River Brown Bear from the 2009-10 season born in 1989 to commit to college hockey. Townsend will play for Minnesota-based Gustavus Adolphus College, a Division III program.
"I'm superexcited to get to go there," Townsend said Tuesday. "It was my No. 1 choice out of all of the colleges that were recruiting me."
Townsend said his two seasons with Kenai River in the North American Hockey League enabled him to move onto college hockey.
"My main priority was to get a hockey scholarship out of the NAHL," he said. "I definitely think going to Kenai was a good choice."
Townsend said he plans on studying kinesiology in order to work in the field of physical therapy.
Most of the NAHL players started skating at a young age. Add up 15-plus years of playing hockey -- equipment, team fees, time spent driving, etc. -- and it's a spendy venture for hockey parents. There's no better reward to those parents than being able repay some of those costs with college scholarships.
"There's no bigger thank-you after an entire childhood and adolescence of hockey than to call your parents and say, 'I just got into college and they're giving me some money to play hockey for them,'" Brown Bears head coach Oliver David said Tuesday.
David stressed that just because players don't play Division I hockey, that doesn't mean they haven't achieved success. Receiving money to further one's education while continuing to play hockey at any level is a success, he said.
"The only thing that lessens that sweet taste is the ego," he said. "Just like anything in life, if the ego gets in the way, then you feel like you failed not playing Division I. That's not what it should be."
Townsend joins Jake Musselman, Braden Kinnebrew, Brad Fusaro and Mike Martin as former Brown Bears too old to play in the NAHL next season that have committed to colleges. David said he's hard at work for the remaining players born in 1989 and hopes to have all nine furthering their hockey careers next year.
"We might have a 100 percent success rate with our graduating '89s," David said. "What a great thing. It's tough to play at the next level. Not everybody gets money to go to college."
Jeff Helminiak and Mike Nesper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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