Stories indexed with the term ‘softball’

Column: UM’s Softball Winning Machine

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

This spring, the University of Michigan women’s softball team won its 15th Big Ten title, and fifth in a row. It went to the NCAA tournament – for the 18th straight season – and won its 14th NCAA regional crown, before losing on Friday in the super-regional to third-ranked Alabama.

In other words, just another typical season for Michigan softball – a team led by Carol Hutchins, one of Michigan’s best coaches, of any sport, in any era. Winning titles is what they do.

And this was not even one of Hutchins’ best teams.

That’s how well this machine runs – and make no mistake, it is a machine. Hutchins’ teams have won more Big Ten titles than the rest of the conference – combined. But it’s a machine she put together, part by part, one that took years of tinkering just to win her first race.

That Hutchins even got the chance was a bit of a miracle in itself. She grew up in Lansing, the fifth of six kids. Her own mom didn’t see the point in her playing sports, let alone competing. But Hutchins refused to quit. [Full Story]

Column: A Season of Small-Stakes Softball

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

I went to Ann Arbor Huron High School, considered by every objective source to be the greatest high school in the history of the universe. And one of the things that made it so great when I was there was an intramural softball league.

Maybe your clearly inferior high school had one, too. But the IM softball league at Huron was created and run entirely by students – the burnouts, no less. That meant the adults, perhaps wisely, wanted nothing to do with it.

So the burnouts got the park permits – God bless ‘em – and every clique had a team, from the guys in auto shop to marching band. They gave their teams names like the Extra Burly Studs, the Master Batters and – yes – the ‘Nads. If you pause to think of their cheer, you’ll get the joke.

My buddies and I failed to get a team together our junior year, but our senior year, we found inspiration. Most of my friends weren’t playing spring sports, so we came home every day after school to catch “Leave It To Beaver” re-runs on Channel 20 – on something called UHF. (Kids, go ask Grandpa.)

Come softball season, we were moved to build a team around that very name: The Cleavers. But if we were going to face battle-tested squads like the All-Star Rogues and the Ghetto Tigers, we knew we’d need an edgier name. And that’s when we came up with – yes – the Almighty Cleavers. You know, to instill fear in our opponents.

You can imagine how well that worked. [Full Story]

Column: “Thanks, Coach!”

Julia Friedman, a member of the Sharks team coached by her sister Rebecca, scores a run.

Julia Friedman, a member of the Sharks team coached by her sister Rebecca, scores a run. (Photo by Louise Chang.)

We were in the field and there was a runner on second. I yelled a reminder from the dugout that we could only get an out at first base. The batter hit a soft grounder right to my shortstop, who fielded it cleanly and made a perfect toss to the third baseman.

The two girls looked quite pleased with themselves. It would have been a textbook play – that is, if anyone had been running to third base. Despite our extensive discussions in practice of what makes a force play, some of the girls still seemed completely confused. I felt that no matter how much I tried, I was doing something wrong as the coach. I felt like I was in over my head and worried that I wouldn’t be able to help the girls. I began to wonder if I had made a mistake taking on a team as head coach.

My dad had been my sister’s Ann Arbor Rec & Ed softball coach since first grade and all I had asked was if I could help out occasionally. He instead offered me the head coach position and a group of 16 nine-year-old girls. Having absolutely no coaching experience, I thought the job sounded like fun and relatively little work. I accepted eagerly.

When it came time to start preparing for my first practice, I began to realize that it might not be as easy as I had anticipated. [Full Story]