MONTPELLIER — It’s tempting to imagine, based on her family name alone, that it was somehow written in the stars. But Carrie Pitcher’s path to softball success was hardly a given.
For one thing, she’s French, and although the sport does exist here, with clubs scattered throughout the country, it still flies very much below the radar. Little wonder that Pitcher’s first foray into sports involved a racket, rather than a bat and glove.
Her exposure to ‘America’s pastime’ came early, however. The 27-year-old has a grandfather from the United States, and years ago, after her parents took a trip there and saw people playing in New York’s Central Park, they decided to hunt around for baseball opportunities back home, in Montpellier.
That’s how the Pitcher family discovered the Montpellier Barracudas club, and how Carrie Pitcher’s twin brother, starting at age five, became a member, she recently told Le Baseblog.
Carrie, in the meantime, took up tennis, but was a regular visitor over the years to Montpellier’s Greg Hamilton Baseball Park, so named for the accomplished Canadian coach who skippered the club for several years in the mid 1990s.
“I used to watch his games,” she said of her brother. “And it’s true that I was really drawn to it. Plus I had some friends who started playing softball.”
And so, when she was 14, the young athlete decided finally to join the Barracudas herself, opting for softball, rather than baseball, even though girls can, in fact, play hardball here if they choose.
Pitcher expected it would be fun. And it was. But what she couldn’t have known then was just how quickly she’d rise through her country’s softball ranks. Nor did she imagine the different opportunities the sport would provide, and the many passport stamps she would — and continues — to collect because of it.
Just two years after joining the Barracudas, the then 16-year-old infielder (she’s not, in fact, a pitcher), received an invite to play for the national team’s junior squad.
Eleven years later, the Montpellier native continues to represent France, most recently in last summer’s Women’s European Softball Championship, in Poland and the Czech Republic, where the team reached its goal of finishing in the top six and will thus have a shot at qualifying for next year’s Olympic Games in Japan.
“I didn’t expect to make the national team so quickly,” Pitcher said. “I was in tennis, where it’s true that there’s a lot more competition. I knew [with tennis] that I wouldn’t break through very easily, so yeah, when it happened with softball I was surprised.”
But just because success came early doesn’t mean it’s been an easy ride for the now veteran softballer, or that she ever took her many opportunities for granted. For years Pitcher has played on not one, but multiple teams — often simultaneously — and with all the travel and practice time that implies.
And except for a stint in Holland, where she was recruited to join a Division 2 team and earned a modest monthly stipend, Pitcher has played purely for passion rather than any kind of monetary reward.
Traveling the world
What makes her dedication to the sport even more impressive is that for much of her softball career, she was also pursuing a university degree in modern languages — besides French she speaks fluent English and Spanish — followed by a mater’s degree in international, multi-lingual business negotiation.
Doing so meant choosing, adapting and maximizing her softball opportunities so that she could always combine the two pursuits. Spending a year as a student-athlete at Humboldt State University, in California, was a case in point. The experience was “crazy,” she said — thrilling, but also humbling.
“The level is definitely higher there,” Pitcher said of her time (2014-2015) in Humboldt. “I didn’t get a chance to play much in the games, because there were girls who were better than me, but I got to train with the team, from Tuesday to Saturday, three hours a day, plus time in the weight room, and some morning gym sessions. It was intense, very different, but it was just a crazy experience.”
Even in Holland, where she was paid a bit to play, plus given room and board, Pitcher was careful to line up an internship to overlap with the season. She did the same for a summer spent playing in Spain.
The payoff for all that multi-tasking came two years ago when she landed a full-time job at the corporate headquarters of Orchestra, a Montpellier-based, children’s apparel company.
But even now, she continues to play for the French national team, plus a regional team, plus an off-season, coed squad (part of the Montpellier Barracudas organization), plus the Division 1 champion Saint-Rafael Comanches, who went 13-3 this past summer. Pitcher batted .359.
Oh, and last year she also took a trip to Havana, Cuba, where she tried her hand at baseball5, a relatively new sport — at least in France — that the FFBS (the French baseball and softball federation) is actively trying to promote. Pitcher played for the French side in a three-nation tournament that Pitcher’s team, despite their relative inexperience, won. The other participating countries were Cuba and Nicaragua.
What drives the young woman to keep putting so much into softball? “It’s my passion for the sport that keeps me playing as much as I do,” she told Le Baseblog. “And I’d like to keep playing my whole life, even if it’s just for fun.”
By Benjamin Witte (firstname.lastname@example.org)