Summer softball: Friendly Foes
WORTHINGTON — Next spring, when Southwestern United pitcher Ida Rogers-Ferguson steps onto the pitching rubber and looks in at Kameron Kroh, it will mean the Edgerton/Southwest Minnesota Christian catcher is batting against her.
This summer, however, Kroh would be the one giving her signs behind the plate.
“Kam knows what I throw so I don’t think it affects the way I pitch if she’s catching,” Rogers-Ferguson said. “But, I know when I face her during the school year I have to be a little more careful than I might be against someone else.”
The Worthington summer softball program works as a melting pot for area softball talent. This summer, five different area schools are represented on the 18U team alone — Worthington, SWU, E/SWC, Adrian and Murray County Central. One Storm player, Bailey Tish, played for Minnesota West last spring.
Though the girls on the team play on rival teams during the school year, they have no trouble coming together as one unit during the summer. Though Rogers-Ferguson said they’re all business between the white lines when they face off in the spring, once the game ends the friendships forged during the summer re-emerge.
“The girls we have on the summer team are a really good group,” said 2014 Worthington High graduate Paige Kinley. “We mix well together and we’re all friends. When we play in the spring it’s just good, fun competition.”
That is exactly what Storm 18U coach Joe Kinley had in mind eight years ago when he started the team in Worthington. At the time, he said the summer leagues at the YMCA only went up to a certain age. There was a team for girls who had graduated out of the YMCA program in Okabena, but Worthington had nothing of the sort.
The first summer, there was only one team of girls playing in Worthington. This year there are six. All of them share the same quality of being a spot where girls from throughout the area can come to play.
“When I started it, I called it ‘Worthington Area’ because we didn’t want to turn any girls down,” Coach Kinley said. “All the girls that we have are girls that want to be there and want to play. They all have one thing on their minds, and that’s playing softball.”
It’s obvious that the team has no trouble meshing when it takes the field. So far this summer, the 18U team is 10-3-1. After taking third place at a tournament in New Ulm earlier in June, the Storm played their best ball to date at the Mankato Rising Stars Tournament last weekend. Worthington finished the tournament with a 4-0 record and outscored opponents 34-19 en route to a championship.
That bonding carries over into the spring, even if the players do have to take a more serious approach towards their summer teammates when they’re in the opposing dugout.
During the 2014 spring, Kinley pitched in Worthington’s game against SWU. On the rubber, she had to face off against the likes of Rogers-Ferguson and Rebecca Kazemba, among others. When she came to the plate, Rogers-Ferguson was the one trying to get her out.
“It’s definitely a challenge going up there to bat against Ida,” she said. “I get up there and look at her and I have to try not to laugh.”
Playing on the same team as some of the girls she pitches against in the spring can be an advantage to Rogers-Ferguson. It certainly helps give her better insight into who each of them are as a batter.
Still, she said, there is no clear-cut advantage or disadvantage to that dynamic.
“When a girl from a different team comes into the dugout during the summer is like, ‘Oh, I hate those high ones’ or ‘Those low ones suck’ I can use that against them in the spring because I know they don’t like those pitches,” Rogers-Ferguson said. “But I know they’re going to see me batting, too, and that they’re probably going to fade towards the line when I come up.”
For Rogers-Ferguson, 2014 is her third season in Worthington and second playing with the 18U team. During that time, she said it has been fun building relationships with girls from other towns along with developing friendly rivalries when the school year comes around.
Coach Kinley said Rogers-Ferguson is a good example of how the program has helped girls on the field as well.
“She’s a great player,” he said. “We’ve moved her around a little bit and I think that’s helped her a lot. Over the last couple years I’ve just seen her game take off.”
Six of the players on the 18U squad will be playing for Minnesota West in the spring. Paige Kinley, being one of them, said joining forces with girls from outside Worthington has helped her prepare for that next step in her playing career.
“It helps playing with different girls,” she said. “We get a good mixture from all around the area. Summer league’s all about getting girls better.”