Local softball star promotes the game in Curacao
There’s no question that softball is alive and well throughout lower Delaware. In fact, at least one Sussex County team has played for the high-school softball state championship in seven of the past eight years, and next month Roxana’s Pyle Center will once again play host to the finest softball players the world over, with the Senior League Softball World Series.
The area’s focus on softball has only increased, and not surprisingly, talent in the sport floods the region. And, last month, Dagsboro native Hayley Brennan got the chance to promote the game overseas.
Entering her junior year at Holy Family University in Philadelphia, the 2010 Indian River High School graduate was the only Delawarean and the only player from her college softball team to be selected to the USA Athletes International (USAAI) Friendship Series Squad to play in the Friendship Series in Curacao, off the coast of Venezuela. The friendly tournament was designed to promote the sport internationally, with education in mind.
Over eight days, Brennan and the team, consisting of American college players and recent graduates, ages 19-23, played six games against Curacao teams to demonstrate for them the appreciation and passion for the game that they possess.
“It really was a lot of fun,” said Brennan. “We were kind of like ambassadors from America. As soon as we got there, we were celebrities. It was amazing.”
In fact, the team was greeted by onlookers sporting cameras and waving to them as soon as they entered the country.
Throughout the week, Curacao teams, with players running the gamut from 16 to 31 years old, had the opportunity to learn from the American athletes and go head-to-head in a number of games.
For Brennan, the trip was exceptionally special, as it was the first time since October that she had been able to take the field, having suffered a concussion during practice last season.
“My coaches wanted to make sure I was alright to play,” she said, “and I was careful. But it was a lot of fun to get out there and get acclimated with the field again.”
In the 2011 softball season at Holy Family, Brennan played in 26 games, starting in 24. She finished the year with a .313 batting average, the second-highest on the roster, and closed out the season with 21 hits, nine runs, four doubles and 11 RBIs. As an Indian River star, the catcher made First-Team All-Conference and captained the Blue Gold Game.
A selection committee from USAAI assembles the American team to head to Curacao based on votes, and in some cases — including Brennan’s — the players selected had no idea what was coming.
“I had only heard of [the organization] last August,” Brennan admitted, “but I had no idea I would be part of the team. There’s no way to apply for it, and I had never met the girls I was playing with before.”
But a love for the game quickly brought them all together, despite stepping on the field as a group only hours before their first game. Other players on the USAAI team hailed primarily from Division III colleges in Wisconsin, Oregon, Louisiana, Florida, New Jersey, North Carolina and Ohio.
But, as the girls quickly found out, the game does not yet share the same esteem in the Caribbean as it does here in the States.
“It was a little different than what we’re all used to,” Brennan noted. “They’d play their music through the entire game, and it kind of made communication a little tough, but you can definitely tell they were having fun.”
A dry heat and a tough, rocky field made conditions a little less than ideal, but Brennan observed the week was still a fun one.
“The girls there want to learn the game,” she said, “and we really had a great time. A lot of them are still in the developing stage, but we definitely saw some good players, too. There was a pitcher there who could probably put some batters away if she came [to the United States] and played.”
She added that the trip was one she wouldn’t soon forget.
“I met a lot of great girls on the team,” she said. “We keep in touch. Everyone had a great time.”