Three girls from Taft have a blast playing softball all over the place
Striving to be the best in sports takes passion, a lot of time and in some cases a juggling act.
Taft softball players Caitlyn Emberson, Arizona Pilgrim and Haylee Tracy are doing just that by playing together on the Fresno Force 18 gold travel softball team.
“It’s fun,” said Tracy. “It’s like having best friends on a travel team.”
“I like it because its people you know,” said Pilgrim.
The three players took different routes in their start to their softball careers before joining the same team. Emberson started with the pitching machine in baseball while Pilgrim played little league t-ball.
After Tracy and Emberson started playing together, Pilgrim joined the other two in the seventh or eighth grade in the West Side Recreation and Park District’s ponytail softball.
This past season was the second straight year, all three had been playing on the same Lady Wildcat softball team. It was capped by the Lady Wildcats winning the Valley Championship.
The three players joined together on a different team recently.
Last year Tracy joined the Fresno Force while Emberson and Pilgrim joined last fall. This was not the first time the players had played on the same travel team.
In terms of the travel ball team, all three played for Central Cal Intensity.
The three players also played for So Cal Choppers but only Emberson and Tracy played together at the same time. After Tracy left, Pilgrim joined the team.
The travel team schedule can be hectic without much time off. When a tournament the players compete in comes to an end, they have about forty eight hours (a couple of days) to relax before they head off to the next tournament.
Even though summer comes to an end the schedule does not for the three players. They will have about a month off in the fall.
In November they start hitting for the Wildcats team before starting practice for the new high school season in late January.
“You don’t really have a social life,” said Pilgrim.
Despite the non stop schedule with travel softball, the players don’t mind.
“If it’s a sport you love, it’s not a big deal,” said Tracy.
“It’s very busy,” said Pilgrim.
“You don’t dwell on it as much,” said Emberson. “It’s tiring but you’re playing the game you love.”
In fact when there is no travel league game or practice and it is before the start of the high school season, the three players will find ways to stay active in softball and stay in shape.
For Tracy it is practicing on the weekends while Emberson practices on her own.
Staying in shape is not the only reason they practice during their downtime. They also do it because they don’t know what else to do.
Playing on the same team is not the only connection for Emberson and Pilgrim.
Whether it is on the travel team, playing for the Taft High softball team, or for other travel teams in the past or ponytail, Emberson is the catcher while Pilgrim pitches.
As a result, they have helped each other out.
“When I am pitching and Caitlyn is catching, Caitlyn tells me what I am doing wrong,” said Pilgrim. “I just know what she’s talking about so I listen. She’s like my pitching coach.”
“It’s helped because I know what her best pitches are,” said Emberson. “We trust each other with what we are doing.”
While Emberson and Pilgrim play the same position, Tracy makes a switch by playing third base for travel ball and shortstop at the high school level.
Playing travel ball has helped the players when it comes to playing at the high school level.
“It’s helped because we can teach the other girls,” said Pilgrim.
“For me its going up there and seeing the ball better,” said Emberson.
It also has a downside.
“It’s also a downfall sometimes because we don’t see the best pitching in our league,” said Emberson.
“It’s the slow pitching,” Tracy said of the difference.
Yet they will see players they have played with from their travel ball schedule in high school competition like this past year at the Buchanan Tournament.
“Every team we played we knew at least one player on the team,” Pilgrim said of the tournament. “It makes it fun because you want to beat them.”
Another perk for the players in playing travel ball is the different locations they go to like Colorado, New York, Texas and this week when they travel to Reno, Nevada .
“Traveling ball is our vacation,” said Pilgrim.
Out of the places they have traveled, Emberson and Tracy both have a favorite place in Colorado.
“Colorado is the funest tournament,” said Emberson. “It’s really pretty and you never know the weather. It’s like a new place every time you go back there.”
For Pilgrim it was New York.
“I thought that was super fun,” she said of the experience.
A juggling act comes into play when school starts and the players (like Pilgrim who plays golf in the fall, Emberson who plays volleyball or Tracy who plays soccer during the winter) are playing different sports, attend school while playing or practicing for the travel team.
“You have to do your homework on the road,” said Emberson. “You have to manage your time well.”
“You can’t procrastinate when you play sports,” Tracy said on schoolwork. “You have to have good relationships with your teacher.”
There is a positive in that the players will meet other players while playing travel ball and they will ask questions on how to do a particular piece of homework.
When her high school career is over, Tracy, who is entering her senior year, would like to go play for the University of Evansville in Indiana.
Meanwhile, Emberson has a couple of options right now but none specific while Pilgrim is undecided and will see what comes along.
Pilgrim and Emberson, who will both be entering their junior years, have been battery mates since ponytail.
Yet when their high school run is over they won’t be crushed if they are not a pitcher-catcher combo on the same team in college.
“It doesn’t really matter to us,” said Emberson.
“We can play a part,” said Pilgrim.
Once their college career is done, the three players will most likely see their softball career come to an end.
The only exception would be if something special came along like softball being readmitted to the Olympics (which could happen this September).