Sadie Armstrong is a 5-foot-10 pitcher/infielder from Portland, Maine and a 2023 Extra Elite 100 selection who has also been honored as a two-time All-American by USA Softball and a member of USSSA Elite Select Futures.
A talented pitcher/hitter, she effectively uses her combination of pitches including a screwball, drop, change and rise and is a dangerous hitter as well with ball exit velocity speeds in the high 60s to low 70s.
Sadie, who has written a dozen Inside Pitch blogs for Extra Inning Softball, was poised to have a huge summer but had a little incident in Mississippi that pretty much immobilized her from July to November of last year.
In her latest blog, she recaps the adversity she had to face and the mental challenges she endured that were as touch as the physical ones…
The Ill-Fated Lead-Off from Third
The arrogance needed to take an aggressive lead is the epitome of cool: pushing your own limits and therefore those of your opponent, and that thrill of making the do or die decision of advancing in order to reach the next base rather than retreating and playing it safe.
The all-at-once and thoroughly analyzed, yet split-second decision is made, and there is a singlemindedness that consumes you. Even if you have your doubts… and you better not!
You commit to your decision, right or wrong, and have to see it through to the end, knowing that you want the next base more than your opponent wants to get you out, because nobody in the history of wanting, has ever wanted to do anything like you want to do THIS… right NOW.
Yearning for Home
I remember every second of the slow-motion scenario that has played out in my mind over and over again like one of Haley Cruse’s Tik-Toks.
I could smell the fine, powdery red dirt that clung to my cleats—in a way that would be impossible for me to ever get clean again—mixed with a waft of the greasy, golden French Fries from concessions that somehow carried on the weak and infrequent breeze that tried to break up the stifling heat and glaring sunshine that defined another sunny mid-July day in Gulfport, Mississippi.
As a sidenote: I didn’t believe for a hot (literally) minute what the adorable Southern lady with her tiny dog claimed as she waved a paper paddle fan while trying to stay comfortable: this was no “pleasantly breezy” day and, frankly, there was no way that her thighs were not going to leave a layer of scalded skin on the glaringly bright metal surface of the bleachers when she stood up.
Mind back on the field, I couldn’t wait to slide across the slippery smoothness of that red-stained home plate. After stealing both second and third bases following a frustrating walk to first base, I wanted to make something happen, so I tried to induce the presumably overheated catcher to throw down to third base.
The Errant Throw
The Third Baseman from the opposing team shadowed me as I took a lead that I admit bordered on recklessness and the Catcher took the bait.
I was several steps off third base with my right foot poised to push into that dusty red ground. The Third Baseman stuck right to me. In fact, she was so close that I probably could have felt the spikes from her left cleat on top of the arch of my left foot if I had been paying attention to such things, but I had my eye on the prize.
The Shortstop was not yet at third base to cover the bag and playing closer to position while the Left Fielder was not in a line with the catcher’s throwing path yet. The Catcher made her throw and when I saw the flash of neon yellow leave her hand, I broke for home with abandon knowing nothing would stop me from scoring this run for my team.
The Catcher’s throw went too wide and landed in the shallow outfield depth of foul territory. As the Fielders chased the ball, I had already taken my explosive first step toward home.
At that exact same moment, however, the Third Baseman pivoted on top of my foot to take her own explosive first step toward the outfield to retrieve the errant ball. What this meant, was that my left foot was pinned to the ground, but the rest of me kept moving forward and I was stuck halfway down the base path with a foot that was no longer able to respond to the commands my brain was sending.
Body Raced Towards Home… Left Foot Stayed at 3rd
I’ve heard people describe their injuries before and claim that they could hear something grotesque when it happened and I always considered that claim to be an exaggeration to make the story good.
I no longer doubt those claims.
In the instance when my foot basically felt internally disconnected from…well…the rest of my foot, I heard things that I knew I shouldn’t hear and those sounds were coming from inside my body.
In reality, I was not running nearly as fast as I was in my own mind. I literally felt the wind on my face and imagined I looked like a blur to any spectators. I heard the crowd yelling for me to “RUN,” but they were doing so because I was limping at a tragically, comically slow pace.
I fell across home plate and kind of collapsed in a heap. When I scored, I was so happy that I felt this perfect understanding of the saying that, “Heaven is beneath your feet as well as above your head.”
I knew it was a timed game and I tried to get up as quickly as I could before the Fielders took a knee and we would lose playing time (priorities, you know). My coaches helped me as I struggled to retain the tiniest shred of dignity while I hobbled into the 18 inches of shade at the end of the bench in our dugout.
And that’s when it hit me.
That’s when I really felt the robust array of overwhelming pains which were all centered in one spot on the swollen, purple, flattened-out blob formerly known as my left foot.
My Coach bravely removed my sweaty, bright purple compression sock and resisted fainting from the stench of softball socks on a hot day. However, it wasn’t sock sweat that made me want to faint, though: it was the visible ball of coiled-up ligaments and spectacularly colorful bruising that was on the bottom of my foot and I knew in that instant that—despite the trainer’s opinion that this was a sprain (which would have been bad enough)—this was no ace bandage and Biofreeze type of injury.
I chugged some water to wash down the Ibuprofen I accepted from a teammate’s grubby hand (seriously, why do hands smell like vinegar when you take your glove off?). Those pills had likely passed through about four girls on its way to me so maybe the water cleaned them off; I took solace in the fact that I just scored my team’s first run at NFA Nationals.
Sidelined… and Suffering
I hobbled around on donated crutches the rest of the week in between cryotherapy appointments and cheering on my team.
After a long drive to the Junior Olympic Cup in Spartanburg, South Carolina in a rented minivan full of the tallest girls on the team folded into the third row of seats, our families and our luggage all strategically stacked up like Tetris pieces, I was ready to see if I could contribute to the cause and participate in a game.
I was in mental, physical and emotional agony as I watched my team. It is one thing to not produce for your team, but it’s another thing to feel you are causing some of the problems, and the guilt was eating me up.
Anytime a teammate isn’t playing, it feels “wrong” and affects chemistry. When things weren’t going our way, I felt somewhat responsible for changing the dynamic of the team.
Coach generously gave me a chance to hit during a game so that I could have the experience of playing in the Junior Olympic Cup. He was worried about my injury, but he also knew that he was giving me something more important by letting me bat. He also just might have known deep down that I was going to be out of commission for a long time. I was able to knock out a single and I was immediately replaced by a pinch runner, with no complaints from me!
During the elimination game, when things were clearly not going our way, Coach put me out there to throw what I figured was a single, charity pitch. My velocity was weak. It is hard to tell your body to drive your leg when you know that it will bring about mind-numbing pain each and every time.
I could throw some junk, though and was hitting my spots, so he left me in for 3.2 innings and I gave up no walks and one lamented earned run. Now, the whole reason I mention this game is not because of my pride in overcoming pain to persevere in this setting despite the result not going our way. The opposing team did something pretty interesting and it kind of blew me away that this happened in an elimination game.
Hobbling in the Circle
My coaches actually had to support me on my slow limp to the circle. The umpires were concerned enough to thoughtfully check on me every inning and the coaches from the opposing team certainly noticed what was going on. As I took my warmups, I overheard the coaches tell the batter “No bunting.”
At first, I was insulted because I wasn’t going to play like an injured kid, no matter what. Obviously, I was a bit irrational while my competitive juices were flowing. I could not believe what I heard, though. I thought it was classy that they did not seek to exploit my weakness.
To me, this showed a different type of confidence than a lot of seemingly cocky coaches demonstrate with their louder tactics. This coach inadvertently sent a stronger message by letting us know that they thought they could beat us without having to resort to bunting on a pitcher who could not effectively move to field her position.
I guess there isn’t much pride in a win that would be earned like that, but in elimination games, a win is a win and I get that too. I am not gushing over the opposing coaches because of sportsmanship, but because their overture was actually so awesomely over-confident that I think I played better to try to induce them to have to bunt!
My parents never felt at ease with the diagnosis of a foot sprain and our shared doubts were justified when my Dad’s golf buddy, who just so happened to be a foot surgeon, read my weight-bearing x-ray.
I had a Lisfranc fracture (I admire Amanda Scarborough, but this was one way I did not want to have something in common with her) and needed surgery. I wound up without a few now unnecessary ligaments and cartilage and gained five screws while also acquiring some cadaver parts, particularly in the form of this product that holds my affectionately nicknamed “Frankenfoot,” together now.
Throughout my months of non-weightbearing recovery, I still found a way to lift weights, do yoga and work on my mental game. When I was permitted to have physical therapy, I tried to go full throttle so that I could reduce my recovery time and get started making gains instead of getting back to even.
I made my focus shift to what I could do instead of what I couldn’t do yet. Consequently, I started pitching months ahead of the prediction. “Prove Them Wrong” became my new motivational motto.
I started hitting again and worked on my stamina so I could survive a full-hour hitting lesson and my ball exit velocity actually increased significantly (new PR!). Much as my setback was frustrating, I had focused on being more athletic in a general sense and I found that my goal of being better, faster, stronger was reachable not despite my injury but actually, because of it.
Maybe I worked harder than I knew how to work before or maybe I saw that softball could have been taken from me and it scared me, but I definitely know what it is to fight and to conquer and I will not be defeated or deterred in my efforts to play this game we all love!
The takeaway from my experience, and what I felt compelled to share with anyone who faces an injury, is that your goal should not just be to recover while you are rehabilitating.
Being injured does not make you less of an athlete and you should work during your recovery as though you were working to compete because eventually that is what you will be doing.
Your goal is to be better than you might have been had you not had the injury in the first place because you will have the opportunity to work on your general strength and fitness and work on your physical weaknesses that might have caused or would cause an injury in the first place.
Sometimes that thing that seems like a nightmare winds up being a blessing in disguise. A really wise coach shared with me that I should focus not on belonging (being one of the pack) but on becoming (reaching my full potential) and I try to become a little better every day by being my best.
A New Beginning… and Challenge
Because of the hurdles I had to clear, it was especially meaningful when Dave Lotti, knowing the full extent of my injury, invited me to join his Rhode Island Thunder Gold 18u - Lotti team for this coming spring of 2020.
He knew I would give everything I have and his confidence in me was touching and encouraging. I can’t wait to take the field with my incredibly talented and inspiring teammates this spring and show Coach Lotti, Coach Fortier and Coach Rosse that they placed their trust in the right girl.
You won’t notice me limping—I’m past that now—but I sure hope you notice my heart and my hustle as I try to contribute to this amazing group, knowing that “iron sharpens iron.”
As if the foot injury wasn’t enough, I also had to spend much of the winter recovering from Mono! Seriously! I almost said, “Why me?” but then I realized “Why NOT me?”
No one deserves to get injured or ill. The fact is, if you play a sport hard, the odds are that at some point you will get hurt in some way. Despite the extent of what I went through this year, I still believe that it’s worth it.
I can’t rehab my way out of this new obstacle, so I guess I will look at this new “challenge” as an opportunity, too: to catch up on all the sleep I will miss when we are all jetlagged this summer!
We’ll catch up again after my nap!