Editor's note: this article is part of alligatorSports' "Best Game I Ever..." series. To find the rest of our articles, visit this page.
Thirty minutes early, I speed-walked up the stairs to the press box of Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium for the very first time.
If you know me, you know that I’m punctual. A four o’clock class in Little Hall (on the complete opposite side of campus from KSP) and a six o’clock start time for the first in-person game I was to cover during my Alligator tenure made me anxious. But I’d made it, by the skin of my teeth (in the eyes of my compulsive need to be approximately half an hour early to everything that is).
And this game, this game was big: a special exhibition between Team USA and the Gators. I had to apply for a separate credential for post-game — my first post-game ever — if I wanted to talk to any of the three former Gators and future Olympians, which I really, really did.
As I walked from the Harn Museum parking lot and the stadium came into full view, I knew this was going to be a once in a lifetime experience for me, as a sports fan and a journalist.
What struck me at first were all of the young girls in their club softball jerseys. Although my student-athlete days are long gone, I remember what it’s like to see your sports role models, especially as a female athlete, and the felicity that comes with witnessing their greatness in real life.
As a swimmer in high school and the state of Florida, Dara Torres and Elizabeth Beisel were two inspirations of mine. While I didn’t swim the same events they did, they were Gators and they were strong women whose historic feats in the pool inspired me. For my fifth grade People Fair project, I dressed up as Torres, standing in front of a posterboard detailing her accomplishments, clad in four gold, four silver and four silver-markered-on-to-look-bronze dollar store medals.
These girls had the opportunity to watch their Torreses and Beisels in-person, and I had the opportunity to watch these girls — to see the joy in their eyes, hear their euphoric and frustrated shouts over the course of seven innings.
That night, I fell in love with softball.
The game itself was really exciting. Other than a 5-4 win over Arizona on Feb. 18, Team USA’s 5-3 game against Florida was the closest of its Stand Beside Her tour. All five Gators pitchers saw time in the circle under the stadium lights that night. Maybe it’s just me, but I enjoyed finding my identity as a writer while the team I was writing about was doing the same amidst what were assumed to be devastating personnel changes.
Senior Kendyl Lindaman — who I hope will be back in KSP next season so I can see more of these — cracked her second of seven home runs on the season that night. That hit was responsible for two of the Gators’ three runs against the Women’s National Team.
Post-game, all of the media members with the approved Team USA credential (which is currently hanging up in my room) were led down the steps of the press box to the field. I held my phone out with my right hand and clutched my moleskin with my left. There I was, standing with experienced reporters from ESPN Gainesville and the Gainesville Sun on the turf at KSP, asking one of the best college softball coaches of all time and future Olympians like Aubree Munro questions.
I pinched myself a few times while listening to them break down that night’s game. I could’ve sworn I was dreaming.
A couple of welts later, I realized I really was awake.
Turns out I was just living out my dream.
Follow Payton Titus on Twitter @petitus25. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.