The Raiders softball team takes a 12-year old under their wing in Florida.
WALT DISNEY WORLD, FLORIDA: When I first planned this trip to follow and cover the Torrington softball team, it seemed like a great opportunity to do something that fit right in the wheel house of why we created LCS in the first place.
Give folks something they could not find anywhere else has always been a cornerstone of our business and the chance to send back the memories that the Raiders would be making this week fit in nicely.
Sometimes though, it becomes so much more than that, and on our first full day in the Sunshine State after making the long road trip from the CT cold, one of those special situations developed.
After greeted the team at the airport (a massive amount of luck was involved, more later) mid-morning, my wife Deb and granddaughter Skyy Elizabeth looked to meet up with them at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Kissimmee later that day on a scheduled practice day.
Since I had thought about making this trip, one thing had been on my mind for the above mentioned 12-year old, who attends The Gilbert School in Winsted in seventh grade, and has been playing softball since she was eight.
Could we work in a scenario in which Skyy would be able to get on the field with the high school team and go through some practice drills?
The kid loves her softball and when I mentioned it late last year to her that she might be able to do juts that, the wheels in her dozen year old head started spinning.
For me, it could be a double-edged positive.
Having Skyy do something she loved while be influenced by some of the best role models that make up the Torrington team, meant I won on both fronts.
I remembered a time a couple years back that I had a chance to watch Skyy be taught some basketball basics by my good friend Tony Turina, he of Raider boys basketball fame at a St Peter/St Francis 3-point shooting contest.
Watching her eyes go big as Turina filled her with confidence to play a sport she had little to no experience in, then do better than either coach or I did, was something to behold.
I have seen what a coach’s influence can be on a young person, growing up in a time in their lives where decisions they make can shape the remainder of their lives, good or bad.
So, I had hoped for the same as we made our way over to see Torrington practice on one of the massive fields at the Complex that our good friend Mike Colangelo helped make into the massive celebration of all things sports.
First, we needed to stop by and say hello to a guy who helped plant the seeds of what we have become, one project at a time.
You see, his job at ESPN WWOS is to plan five years into the future, something lost on most of us who are just happy knowing what we are doing twenty minutes from now.
His office sits right behind home plate at the baseball stadium that has been the spring training home of the Atlanta Braves, not the worst spot to call your work space.
It’s always great to see Michael, a Torrington native who has never forgotten his roots or his friends and after a great view of a college game that was going on in front of us, we made our way to the softball fields to find the Raiders.
There are twenty something fields in the complex so one gets their walking in while making the journey to the diamonds, which in the case of the softball fields, are decorated with Minny Mouse ears around the circle.
After wondering around a bit, we located the Raiders on Field 13 and started the process of documenting their journey.
Skyy, who had her bag, loaded with a bat, helmet and glove, had asked more than once (she is 12 after all) when she was going to work out with the girls.
I had asked her to give me a little time to figure out how things were going to work before committing to when or if she could work with the team.
They were there to work, we were on vacation. Work came first.
I will never be one of those people who demand anything from coaches because my grandchild wanted to play, that crosses a line I’m never going over.
If it fit, it fit. If not, so be it.
After talking to Colangelo, he made it clear that the atmosphere would be a relatively relaxed one on the practice field, which gave us confidence that security would not be dragging us off the field at any point. A plus.
I made my way onto the field and started getting pictures for the many stories that will come out of this trip while Deb and Skyy settled into the stands.
Head coach Maryanne Mussleman was working with the infield while assistant coaches Torrie Musselman and Amanda Shortt were hitting to the outfielders in right center field.
Raiders Sidnee Kovall, Taylor Rogers and Nina Julian were going through their practice with their coaches and after consulting with the coaches, we decided it would be okay for Skyy to take part.
Sometimes in life, moments stick with you for all the right reasons.
When I went back to the bleachers and told Skyy to get her glove and follow me, her facial expression, one mixed with fear and excitement, was priceless.
She was going to go out on the field with the varsity team. I’m not sure if she wanted to run as far away as possible at that point but she did follow me to the outfield where she took her spot with the team.
I’ve watched Skyy play ball for the past five years so, I knew she could hold her own if she could hold her nerves.
As she went through the line with the outfielders, guided along by each of them, Skyy took her turn waiting for Torrie Mussleman to send her a fly ball.
Now, no coach wants to nail the new kid in the head with a line drive so Mussleman tried to give her an easy one but the first one sailed well over Skyy’s head.
Once it became apparent that Skyy could hold her own though, the remainder of the outfield time went very well with the young 12-year old even calling the ball as it made her way between two fielders.
A high-five from Kovall made Skyy’s day, as it did mine.
All these kids are terrific role models and treated Skyy like she was one of them.
Skyy plays first base most days but does dabble in the circle as well.
Having one of the best pitchers in the state in Ali DuBois on the Raiders team had Skyy hoping she might get some tips from the Boston University bound senior and after outfield was done, the two took off down the right field line to get some work done.
DuBois could not have been any better a mentor for Skyy, who felt at ease right off the bat.
After warming up down the line, the duo made their way into the bullpen with the All-State hurler taking the catching position while Skyy worked on her fast pitch which is in the early stages of development and accuracy.
For nearly 20-minutes, the two kids worked. Skyy pitching, Ali (sometimes chasing the ball out of the enclosure) catching.
Not going to lie, both the outfield work and the bullpen work made two grandparents hearts feel so good.
At one point, I suggested the two wrap it up so as not to over work the starting pitcher for the Raiders but DuBois left it up to Skyy and they threw a little more.
Skyy left the park on an incredible high. She had just worked with the varsity team and held her own.
My first, and most important objective had been made. Get Skyy some work with the terrific role models that make up the Torrington softball team.
Thanks to the coaches and players for making sure I did not have to drive 1100 miles back to Torrington without having fulfilled a granddaughter’s dream.
That would not have been a fun ride.