Force team members become role models for younger players
PITTSFIELD -- When the Pittsfield Force 16-U team gathered at the Doyle Complex for Babe Ruth World Series softball practice, the players and coaches weren’t the only people there.
Members of the 12-U team were helping prepare the complex for next week’s World Series while head coach Jessica Bazinet had her 10-U players working out on an adjacent diamond in preparation for this weekend’s New England Regional Tournament in Rochester, N.H.
Before coach Jim Clary had his team get heavily involved in practice, he invited Bazinet’s team over to take some infield practice with the older girls.
"I can remember when I was younger, we did a similar thing," Jilly Campbell said of inviting the younger kids over.
For about 10 minutes, Clary hit grounders to the infielders or fly balls to the outfielders. Shouts of where to send relay throws echoed in the early evening.
It’s part of what has made the program successful.
"Oh yeah, definitely," said Kailey Bell. "The whole Force program is like that. We just practiced with the 10-year olds and you see how much they look up to you."
Serina Stimpson, Clary’s assistant, was watching. Back in 2008, she was a player on the team. And as Jim Stimpson, Serina’s father, recalled, some of the current Force players were in the same place these younger kids are now.
"We had some of these girls there in that time," he said. "I used to tell them that if you keep working hard, come up and practice with us, and some day I’ll be coaching you."
While Jim Stimpson isn’t coaching the World Series team this year, he smiled after recalling what he told them.
"And here they are," he said.
The Force teams of 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2013 set the bar and became the role models for the players who followed them.
"It was exciting [last year]. They just beat the odds against them. They played hard and it was a great atmosphere," said Force pitcher Julia Murphy, who watched last year’s team win the New England Regionals at home. "They set the tone for the whole program. They made Pittsfield be known as a force to be reckoned with."
Having the World Series in Pittsfield in 2008 created role models for young Pittsfield players, even some role models from out of state.
"I wanted to be just like the [Lodi] Californian pitcher and we played against that team, so it was crazy," said Carly Decker, who shared pitching duties on last year’s World Series team. "She was like my idol.
"It was an amazing feeling to be there. That’s what I wanted to do."
That pitcher, Tori Shepard, went on to have a Division I college career at the University of the Pacific. Players and parents all say that they have spent time checking up on some World Series alumni on the internet.
Emily Koldys, a pitcher on this year’s World Series team, watched last year.
"It was exciting. I loved every single minute," she said. "I looked up to all the girls."
The World Series team members are more than happy to be around the younger players. It’s part of a "pay it forward" attitude that has helped grow the sport.
"It’s always important to make yourself approachable and let the little girls know that we play on a higher level, but we’re friendly," said Campbell. "We have fun, just like they do."
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