UCLA and the Wisz Kid
Very pleased to see UCLA win its 12th women's softball national championship, beating #1-ranked Oklahoma (UCLA was #2) two games to none in the best-of-three game series. Big congrats.
By the way, even if you don't care one whit about this, do yourself a favor and still jump below the first video to read about and then watch to the two other videos afterwards on UCLA player Stevie Wisz.. (It's pronounced "Whiz.") They're both short, the second one only about 10 seconds. I think it's worth it, and almost none of it is about baseball -- though that's the foundation that colors it all.
I like women's softball and watch it periodically. In addition to the skillful play, the added pleasure is the joyful spirit of it -- the players often double as cheerleaders, working out team routines that they perform in the dugout, It's a slower-paced game than baseball, and if the level of play isn't as high (flyballs can be sometimes be an advantage), there is also a quickness to it all, thanks to the distance between bases -- and the pitcher's circle and home plate -- being much closer. There are also a lot more hugs than in men's baseball.
Though I had the Cubs game running on my tablet, I happily wore my UCLA baseball cap and cheered them during the finale as a proud graduate school alum. I'm only sorry I didn't realize that the first round was being played at Jackie Robinson Field, because it's about two miles from me, and I'd have driven over. I almost did, when I was watching their clinching game in that first round, but by that point there were only two innings to go, so I stayed in front of my set.
Here are the highlights of the final, exciting game that went down to two outs in the last inning. Though the video says it's two minutes long, the highlights are only a minute -- the rest of jumping on another and celebrating. Since there's no announcer, know that the first highlight -- a home run -- came from the first batter of the game. And the second highlight, also a home run, came from the second batter.
With UCLA holding a one-run lead going into the top of the last inning (the seventh) with two out, Oklahoma hit a home run to tie the game. But then, in the bottom of the inning, UCLA got a lead-off single, and the runner was bunted to second, in scoring position. But when the next better grounded to short, the baserunner was thrown out at third base. That left a runner only at first with two outs -- however, a wild patch moved that runner to second base and again scoring position. That brought in a fast pinch-runner, who barely slid in to score on a base hit on the very next pitch. Which brings us to the national championship, a lot of jumping on another and celebrating.
Which carries us to the tale and two videos I mentioned above. The leading player for UCLA is its star pitcher and batter, Rachel Garcia who not only won the National Player of the Year Award...but won it for the second year in a road!. Not shabby.
But my favorite UCLA player was Stevie Wisz. She doesn't play much -- mainly as a pinch runner, sometimes on defense, and rarely at the plate. I think she may have had three at bats this year. But what stands out about her is her spirit which is effusive. It's not just that she's already had two open-heart surgeries, because of a birth defect, but she has a third one scheduled -- in two weeks! This here is a long and wonderful article about her on the ESPN website, and below is a brief video on the NBC Nightly News.
But wonderful as this story is -- and it's awfully good -- it wasn't what got me to be a fan of Stevie Wisz. It's something I saw about her before I even knew her history. In fact, I didn't even know what player it was. All I saw was a UCLA player in the dugout who was wearing a broadcast headset -- except it wasn't a real one, but something makeshift made with...bananas. (Yes, you read that right: it's made of bananas.) She does a play-by-play of the game with it. And it gets even better, because her teammates play along, and she interviews them on her banana headset throughout the game.
I loved it. And it's part of what I was referring to of the fun in women's softball -- ratcheted up to a higher level. And I had no idea who this was, I just loved her for it, whoever she was. That it turned out to be Stevie Wisz bringing such joy to the game made it all the better.
This is just a much, much too-brief clip, maybe eight seconds. I've tried to find longer footage, but thus far to no avail -- after all, there is little more adorable and funny than watching a ballplayer carrying on a long interview with a teammate into two bananas during a championship series. How wonderful was it? This was during a championship series when there was important action on the field, and ESPN kept the camera on Stevie Wisz interviewing a teammates with a banana (!!) for about a full 30-seconds.
You'll have to make due with his. It's plenty enough.
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Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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