Features

Baler softball team returns to play after shutdown

Girls varsity at San Benito High School discuss getting back on the field.
Kaiya Dickens. Photo by Robert Eliason
Kaiya Dickens. Photo by Robert Eliason
Coach Andrew Barragan. Photo by Robert Eliason
Coach Andrew Barragan. Photo by Robert Eliason

The San Benito High School softball team has returned to the diamond for a truncated but full season, with 20 games scheduled over the next month and a half. With less than a month to practice, the team has started competing and is ready to take on all comers.

This time last year, the team looked forward to playing games in its brand new stadium on campus. Instead, pandemic restrictions suspended play only two games into the season, not to be resumed that school year.

“Last year, my daughter Drew was a senior along with three other girls on the team and that was the end of it for them,” said coach Andrew Barragan. “The hardest part of it was not knowing what was happening or how long it was going to last.”

Once it became clear that play was not going to be resumed and the season was really over, Barragan needed to change his approach to dealing with the team.

“Our focus shifted to keeping the seniors in shape so they would be able to play college,” he said. “And then we had to work on keeping the returning players motivated and active, which was hard. It was tough on me both as a father and a coach.”

The end of the season meant the end of practice, as athletes were prohibited from working out on the school’s fields or even throwing the ball around.

“There were daily phone calls trying to keep their spirits up,” Barragan said. “I would tell them, ‘I don’t know when this is going to lift, but when it does, you have to be ready.’ These girls lost any motivation or any idea that they were going to play again.”

For SBHS senior Aniesa Osorio, last year’s shutdown was her first break from the sport since she started playing at age five.

“I don’t think anyone thought we would lose the whole season to COVID,” she said. “I stayed motivated by staying focused on what I needed to work on, whether it was hitting or defense or offense. I really used the cages to my advantage and I have a gym at my house that I used as well. I had to stay positive about things and tell myself I had to be prepared for anything.”

New protocols were put in place on March 7, and the softball team was allowed to take the field and get back to practice.

“I was super filled-with-joy happy,” said senior Kaiya Dickens. “I am thankful we are able to do something. I have been keeping busy and doing as much as I can to keep in shape. Our team has been doing training at Body Ade here in Hollister with Elva Ayala, the fitness instructor, and she has really been working us.”

When they arrive at practice, they are met at the gate with a list of questions about their health and a mandatory temperature check. Everyone on the field must wear masks, and social distancing is required at all times. At games, each player is allowed to invite only two spectators.

“Fortunately for us, baseball and softball are not contact sports,” Barragan said. “We have 15 girls on the roster so it is pretty easy to spread out. The biggest change for us is the mask. The girls have to wear them, the umpires have to wear them. It is tough when you have to wear it and you are out there huffing and puffing, but they do it.”

According to Barragan, the softball team is strong this year, despite losing four seniors to graduation last year, including two strong pitchers. 

“We have five freshmen out here and probably four of them will start,” Barragan said. “I have a solid hitting corps that just hits them over the fence for fun—it is really exciting. And for the first time, with the conditioning at Body Ade, we can design workouts for whatever they need to help them each week. That will build strength and also hopefully keep them from getting injured.”

The Balers played their first game on April 3, losing 7-2 to the Saint Francis High School varsity girls softball team from Mountain View. But with another 19 games scheduled, the season has barely begun.

“Now that things are beginning to lift, I think we are all ready,” Osorio said. “I feel that the team as a whole has gotten so close together we are basically like family. I think we have a great chance of winning the season.”

 

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Robert Eliason

I’ve been a freelance photographer since my dad stuck a camera in my hand on the evening of my First Grade Open House. My dad taught me to observe, empathize, then finally compose the shot.   I have had gallery showings and done commercial work but photojournalism is a wonderful challenge in storytelling.   The editors at BenitoLink have encouraged me to write stories about things that interest me, turning me into a reporter as well.  It is a great creative family that cares deeply about the San Benito community.