Eileen McCann is a junior outfielder on the Iona College softball team. This season, McCann will be taking Iona fans inside the world of not only an Iona softball player, but that of a student-athlete. After two short seasons, McCann has had a very successful career at Iona. A two-time MAAC Champion, McCann is a career .301 hitter with 18 home runs and 56 runs batted in to her credit. Off the field, McCann is a Mass Communications major with a concentration in Public Relations.
I have a confession to make. I am 20 years old, I have been playing softball for 15 years, and I’ve never laid out for a ball. Not in practice, not in a game, never. I can’t explain why, but I have never had the instinct to dive for a ball. Especially at a D1 level, it is basically a prerequisite that if you’re going to play in the outfield, you can’t be afraid to dive for a ball, but I always have been. Of course I am very aware of this huge fault in my game, and I actually used to practice diving quite a bit in my younger days, but it never became second nature for me. The urge to lay out for a ball never resided in my mind, and I continued to play, year after year, letting balls only inches out of my range fall down for base hits. I eventually accepted the fact that I would never learn to dive instinctually for a ball and for the most part I’ve managed to get by all this time without it affecting my confidence on the field, or at least that’s what I thought.
My teammates and I sometimes like to spend our free afternoons on our school’s soccer field, playing catch and hitting each other fungos. What can I say, we love softball. It was during one of these afternoons, recently, that I was forced to face my long time insecurity about diving for a ball. Our friend on the baseball team, Michael Chiaravalloti, was fielding balls with us on this particular day and he was getting frustrated with me for getting good jumps on balls that appeared out of my range, and then letting them fall only inches away from my glove. I think he screamed at me to “LAY OUT FOR THAT BALL!” at least seven or eight times before he simply began diving for every ball himself to prove a point. It was while watching him dive for balls to his left, right, and even ground balls right in front of him that I decided that this was something I could do. And so, I followed suit. I was approached with a ground ball to my glove side. I hunched down, left my feet, threw my glove in front of me and, with my body parallel to the turf, I felt as the ball slipped into the pocket of my glove. As I fell down on the turf, my face immediately lit up with a smile as I caught some tire bits from the turf in my mouth; it was exhilarating. I could not believe I actually dove for a ball. What’s more, I could not believe this simple act of leaving my feet was what I was storing inside me deep down as fearful insecurity for so long. This was not scary at all, it was fun! After diving for that first ball I then proceeded to dive for about seven more. I left the field that day with turf burn on my legs and a whole new confidence in the outfield.
When you have been playing softball as long as I have, you may reach a point where you believe that you have learned everything there is to learn, and you are as good as you’ll ever be. I think once I passed the age of 18 I accepted that I would no longer have any eye-opening experiences involving my ability to play the game. And so I must give a big THANK YOU to Mike Chiaravalloti for allowing me to know that you can teach an old dog new tricks.
We began our season in Florida this past weekend. On our way down, my newfound confidence in my defensive abilities got me to thinking about our team goals going into our first games. As anyone can guess, playing with confidence is just about the best thing that a team can do if they want to win. But playing with confidence is easier said than done during the first weekend out, especially when our sport takes place on dirt/grass and we’ve been practicing on a gym floor with flexi balls for the past month. And so, even though I would have loved for each of us to play with 100% confidence during our first games, I settled on a slightly more realistic goal for the weekend; play with no regrets. It sounds simple, and it is, but it’s not something many think about when in the game. I wanted us to take the field without regard for the possibility of making a mistake, and think only about how we would throw everything we have into any ball that may come near us, or any pitch worth hitting that crosses the plate. Just as when you dive for a ball, the only way you can succeed in catching it is if you leave all doubt behind the moment you leave your feet, and know you’re doing everything you can and should do to help your team. Whether or not we left Florida with 4 wins or 4 losses, I wanted us to leave without questioning our game time decisions and regretting our mistakes.
We had done all the prep work, and were all foaming at the mouth to get that first win against Samford, and we did. A shutout pitching performance by Sarah Jackson and a solo home run by yours truly allowed us to begin our season with a W; final score 1-0 Gaels. Although we only put up one run in that first game, we all came out swinging and had great contact off the bat, not just in that first game, but all weekend. We ended the weekend 3-1, beating Samford again along with South Dakota, and taking a productive loss to Stetson. My team goals for the weekend were met. My teammates played great, and I have to congratulate Brianna Schauer, Carly Argyle, and Megan Sakowski for all picking up their first collegiate hits! Our first games set a great tone for the rest of the season and I know we’re all chomping at the bit to get back on the field next weekend in Longwood, Virginia.