Sadie Armstrong, the tall pitcher/utility player for the Rhode Island Thunder organization, has a lot of reasons—like most all of us—to look forward to leaving the year 2020 behind.
Her bad luck started last year with a foot fracture that led to surgery, then she got mono, gastroparesis (stomach paralysis) and later a quad muscle injury.
“2020 can go away now!” she joked, but the good news is she’s back on the field working out and getting ready for a big 2021 season playing for the Thunder – Wilson 18U team.
What’s really interesting is that—and in more than a decade of covering top high school/club players I’ve never seen this before with a top 100-caliber player—Sadie was originally a 2023 grad but she missed enough school to be reclassified as a 2024 grad.
And, in a first for us in my career, though she was originally a 2023 Extra Elite 100 honoree, she is a candidate to make the 2024 rankings which started on Monday!
“I'm academically equal to a sophomore who will need extra time to get classes in as a fifth year equaling a 2024 grad year,” she told Extra Inning Softball. “It will take a lot of pressure off me. I will have more opportunity to play and earn hitting and fielding time as well as pitch. I want to have as many innings as possible so I can be ready for the next years and when it will matter most!”
The missed school, however, hasn’t hurt Sadie in the classroom.
“I am doing well academically despite only attending school for about four full weeks last year,” she explains, “and I am in the top 15% of my class. I've also been volunteering and playing violin, although without performance opportunity due to COVID!”
Her new coaches on the 18U team, Alyssa McCoart and Nicole Venturini, speak highly of Sadie’s impact on her new team already.
Coach McCoart said, “I can attest to her talent as a softball player. Sadie has one of the strongest arms on our team and without a doubt I am very confident that she will continue to get stronger and stronger each year. As a 2024, we are expecting Sadie to get many innings in the circle this fall season.”
Overcoming obstacles isn’t new for Sadie; ironically, she wrote a blog for us in February titled “Overcoming Adversity is a Decision. Choose Wisely.”
In her latest Inside Pitch for us, she talks about how she stayed motivated, excited and prepared at the beginning of her softball career when her coaches and teammates didn’t know how good she really could be!
--- Brentt Eads, Extra Inning Softball
A Fish Out of Water
Not belonging is uncomfortable, embarrassing and lonely… it makes you feel like a fish out of water.
Sometimes, your discomfort is social and other times it is based on your role on a team especially when you are trying to be something you are not. I have in my own typically awkward way, experienced both of those types of being a fish out of water.
As the only nine-year-old playing with second year 10U girls, I was physically larger than all of the other kids, but I was developmentally behind the other girls and lacked their experience. Still, I was proud to be playing among athletes I admired and understood that my role on the team would be like an apprenticeship for the next year.
I decided to embrace my role and just take whatever I could from this year into the next year when I would become more of a leader.
Well, the core of the travel team had played together for a season already with their own inside jokes and shared experiences, and they were more mature than I was in their interests and body awareness, so I was definitely a fish out of water.
It wasn’t anyone’s fault and it isn’t that I was disliked, I just wasn’t part of the coach’s “Circle of Trust” and of course that just compounded the kids’ sensing that I was not really part of the team.
Being on the outside felt lonely and isolating and I definitely didn’t like it. It was like being the new kid at school and trying to figure out which lunch table group you should sit with.
I was the tallest kid on the team, by a large margin, even though I was the youngest. Sticking out like a sore thumb is difficult even if you stand out in a physically good way, when you are young. It certainly was one more thing that made me feel like I was “among” teammates but not “one of” them.
For instance, no one ever asked me to throw with them during warmups. It felt pathetic and desperate to always be the one to do the asking. Sometimes my teammate would say she was throwing with someone else. Sometimes she would say with a charitable smile that she was waiting to see if someone else wanted to throw with her but she would throw with me if no one else was throwing with her.
I assumed best intentions but it was no less insulting. That made me feel rejected and discouraged making it hard to ask someone new the next time, but I would do it anyway.
I only played at most, two non-essential innings of the game typically in left field, because we had a great pitcher who was fast enough that the mostly right handed batters would hit towards right field because they would be late with their swing. I knew why I was there and it wasn’t for my fleet feet or golden glove.
I definitely did not deserve more playtime in the outfield. I hadn’t earned that.
I would get one at bat each game. I struck out or got hit by a pitch every. single .at-bat. Travel ball pitchers sure threw a lot harder than in rec ball. Our local league wouldn’t even let kids pitch at this age and there were definitely no umpires or stealing bases. Competitive softball was really cool, even if I was mostly an observer.
I didn’t deserve more at bats than I received. I hadn’t earned that.
The thing is, I might not have been in the field or in the box, getting lots of action and experience, but I still learned a lot while watching my teammates and opponents play. What I learned was mostly mental in terms of how to play the game, but I learned physical aspects of the game, too.
I would mentally mimic the movements of the girls in the field and visualization is a huge tool for me even today. I learned because I chose to spend my dugout time productively instead of having a tantrum about play time I hadn’t earned.
I just wanted to be ready for when I finally would get my chance someday…and I knew that if I wanted to pitch, I had to just wait and capitalize on the opportunity when it presented itself.
While the more skilled and experienced players presumably widened that gap between our levels of play with their in game reps and opportunities to hone their mental acuity, I watched and I was thinking the whole time.
The most profound thought I had was something like this: shortstop touched the ball three times today in one game. We played three games. That meant, she took at best, nine ground balls. I could field nine ground balls in less than two minutes, I bet.
I also pretended to be in the field each time the ball was hit and tried to mentally make the play before the fielder to see if I was right.
The nine kids who owned their positions were understandably exhausted on the hours-long car rides home after a tournament. Our hardware-hunting 10U team was really good if you define good as winning most local tournaments entered, and they always went deep so there was a lot of ball played.
Not by me, though!
I had plenty of energy leftover. I did not need to rest on Monday. I did not need to take Friday off to save my arm for the game. I used the 9U year of travel softball for one reason and one reason only: I was going to outwork and outhustle someone and take their spot by the end of THIS season.
I still pitched a lot, but not to live batters. I threw to a catcher almost every day. I took a lot of ground balls and fly balls, too. But, I knew what I really wanted was to be a pitcher. I figured what would set me apart would be a changeup and I worked on it for 10 pitches at the end of each practice session. I worked on having fast reflexes knowing that the pticher was the closest fielder to the ball when it came off the bat.
I started hitting once or twice a week with a family friend who used to play in the Braves organization and is a professional instructor and a great friend to me. His lessons were intense and technical but my absolute, unequivocally favorite part of training.
He constantly challenged me and decided that I had to hit one over the fence before I turned 10-years-old, and by the end of the season, even though nobody knew it based on my game performances (and those opportunities were typically not present), I could hit that ball over the fence during front toss with some regularity once that first one went over (totally a mental thing).
Okay, he tossed it middle-middle but gimme’ a break: I was 9!
More importantly, at that age, I was able to see the ball better and make good choices at the plate. It was like the game actually slowed down and became easier. Besides, if you can hit, you don’t sit at this age!
During recess at school, we had this game called “Wall Ball” where someone chucks a tennis ball at the brick wall, and everyone who touched the ball has to touch the wall before the ball is thrown again or they are out. My overhand throw improved exponentially from this game and I worked on my throwing mechanics without anyone knowing. It was cool when the boys commented that I had a cannon for an arm!
The Big Moment Arrives
It was the last tournament of the season and I was in left field for my obligatory two innings. I never asked the coach to play me in any specific positions and my parents would have throttled me if I had.
I gratefully accepted whatever meager chances he offered. He knew I pitched but just didn’t really see how I could possibly pitch well if I was not a stud outfielder. Additionally, no balls really ever came to me, so even if I had been a stud outfielder, I never could show that. That’s the downside of playing for a team with crazy good pitching at 10U.
On this occasion, our ace pitcher was exhausted from battling in a Little League All Star Regionals game so the coach put in another pitcher. She disclosed she had not been practicing because she did not see enough playtime to justify it. Then entered another exhausted kid.
I am pretty sure that he was simply out of options by the time he bellowed “How many warmups do you need, Sadie?” I was in shock. “Just two, Coach!” Everyone laughed including the coach. This was what I had waited all season for: the opportunity to pitch.
I sprinted in from left field and saw that my coach’s shoulders was relaxed for the first time that I could ever remember! It was as though he expected complete annihilation and was trying to make a show of not caring how the game went.
I could not wait to prove him wrong but I definitely would have benefited from a show of his confidence instead even if it was fake (things I learned about myself). I also learned afterward that my mother was practically dry heaving from stress. I was just excited! I used up my two warm up pitches and felt ready to go.
Thank you adrenaline! Batter up…
We were already way behind when I entered the game in the second inning, but we somehow pulled within one run and I struck out like 13 batters and got my first-ever travel ball hit before we eventually lost. Everyone was so surprised that I delivered. Their congratulations felt good but their surprise simultaneously felt insulting because I never doubted me.
Fish & Trees Don't Mix
Albert Einstein is credited as saying “Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.”
The reason the fans, friends, family, teammates, opponents and my own coach were shocked was because I was a tree-climbing fish out in left field and had never played the position I was naturally inclined towards and for which I had trained. I just needed the chance and for success, confidence and motivation to all build on each other.
Once I was no longer a fish out of water, I found out just where I belonged. This season, I am pitching, playing some infield and hitting the ball as hard as I can for Rhode Island Thunder Gold 18U on the Wilson team.
I can’t wait for our first tournament of the fall in Newtown, Pennsylvania during the weekend of September 25th-27th. We’ll be on Athletes Go Live!
--- Sadie Armstrong