The first text came in from my former college teammate and current Stanford softball assistant coach Tori Nyberg around 6 p.m. on Thursday.
"Who is watching NCAA softball on Facebook Live? Robin is up."
I was in the middle of making dinner for my 19-month-old son, as my husband and I were doing the usual evening juggle of dinner, bath, nursery rhymes and books. It is almost impossible to watch anything on television from about 6 p.m. until we get him to sleep around 8 p.m.
But text messages like this don't come in every day.
"I am!" our star pitcher, Dana Sorensen, wrote. "How crazy this was 19 years ago."
Within minutes, the group text was humming. Then a second group text started, with someone adding our former assistant coach, Lonni Alameda. (Alameda went on to coach Florida State and led the Seminoles to a national championship in 2018).
I had to turn the phone on silent because my son was getting annoyed with all the alerts. But hell yes, I was going to find that game on the NCAA Softball's Facebook Live feed. Nursery rhymes could wait.
In a way, it felt like a really long time ago. So much has happened in all of our lives since that first game at the Women's College World Series in Oklahoma City back in 2001. We've gotten married, had children, built careers, moved all over the county. But as soon as our team group text starts humming, the years just melt away, and we're right back in the dugout together.
The alumni who'd come back and talk to us would always tell us to soak in every minute of it. They'd tell us that the farther you get away from it, how silly all the anxieties and insecurities you were feeling so acutely in college seem to be; that later on, when you were out in the real world, you would yearn to be back in that dugout with your teammates.
I'd hear their advice, try to get over whatever I was wrestling with at the time -- my batting average, hitting the cutoff man, that damn bunt I didn't get down in the last game, or whatever -- and try to just be present in the moment, enjoying being part of the team and competing at the highest level.
But honestly, I don't think I ever truly got out of my head and completely into the moment until we got to Oklahoma City.
It was my senior year, and I'd been hanging on to whatever I had left in my softball career for months. Each time we'd play in Oregon or Arizona or Washington or Los Angeles was a big deal to me. Each home game, each practice, I was nostalgic, emotional, sad. I even kept an online diary that year as I worked through all those emotions.
Yes, I was ready to start the next part of my life, but it was also really hard to say goodbye to this part. It felt like a part of my identity was dying, and I really didn't yet know how I was going to replace it. But I promised myself that if we made it to Oklahoma City, I'd try to let go of letting go and just completely be in the moment. And so when I ran out to right field for that first game against LSU, I closed my eyes and made myself take a snapshot of that moment that I would remember for the rest of my life.
The feeling of making it there, the sense of accomplishment, of camaraderie, of adrenaline and anticipation. The smell of the grass, the sound of the fans. If I close my eyes even today, I swear I can still feel the humidity in the air.
I felt all of that the other day when we watched a replay of that LSU game together. But I also felt what those alumni always used to tell us about: gratitude. Those really were some of the best years of my life. The friendships you make, not only with your teammates, but the women you competed against, last a lifetime.
I can go two years without talking to one of my old softball friends, but the second that group text starts humming, we're all connected again.
These days, I mostly keep up with everyone on social media. And it's truly amazing how many of the women I grew up with are nominated for ESPN's Greatest All-Time Softball Team.
My teammate Jessica Mendoza is nominated as an outfielder. She's the most dynamic talent I think the sport has ever seen. My assistant coach at Stanford, Sara Pickering, is nominated at second base, where she starred at Washington. She never wasted an at-bat. UCLA's Stacey Nuveman is nominated at catcher. I still tell people about the line drive she hit toward me in right field that nearly broke my hand. And, of course, we all still have nightmares about UCLA's Natasha Watley (nominated at shortstop) flying around the bases to score ahead of any throw.
UCLA's Tairia Mims Flowers (utility) had the best opposite-field power of any hitter I have ever seen. UCLA's Amanda Freed (utility) was one of the best athletes I ever played against. One year, she had an injured right arm and taught herself to play outfield and throw -- left-handed! And if UCLA's Lisa Fernandez (right-handed pitcher) doesn't earn a spot on the "greatest of all time" list, I will personally call for a revote. She is our sport's Babe Ruth.
Teammates for life
At the 2015 espnW: Women + Sports Summit, former college softball teammates Jessica Mendoza and Ramona Shelburne discuss the importance of women supporting women in and outside of sports.
A few years ago, my husband asked me if I ever got any hits off Arizona right-hander Jennie Finch. I was sure I had, but definitely not many. So I looked it up as best I could and I was something like 3-for-17 all time. Not impressive.
"You got three hits off Jennie Finch!" he exclaimed, truly impressed.
I don't remember any of them, which tells you how unimpactful those hits were against her, probably just a little seeing-eye ground ball or flare that dropped in front of an outfielder. (Finch and Arizona went on to win the WCWS that year in 2001.) I'm sure I got even fewer against UCLA's Keira Goerl (right-handed pitcher). I just remember getting sawed off by her screwball and wildly chasing after her rise ball.
I have plenty of memories of Arizona's Lovieanne Jung (utility) smoking line drives in the gap when we'd play them at Hillenbrand Stadium. And I swear, all those Arizona outfielders (Leah O'Brien-Amico, Caitlin Lowe, Amy Chellevold, Alison McCutcheon and Laura Berg) were faster the hotter it got in Tucson. Although we rarely slowed them down on the road, either.
There are so many others on the list worthy of your votes, but I am partial to the women I played with and against.
One group text or Instagram post and we're all right back in it.
Anyone want to take BP?