Illini infielder never stepped up to the plate, but was still a hit this year
For anyone who dreams of playing baseball or softball, part of that dream is stepping up to the plate, bat in hand, ready to hit a deep home run, or at least get a hit.
So what's it like to play in a season in which you appeared in 28 games, but never once held the bat?
"Of course, we are all eager to get out there, but there are so many ways to contribute to the team's success," University of Illinois softball infielder Sam Acosta told the West Cook News. "It's the team that is most important. I feel I did my job as a pinch runner and was a supportive teammate in the dugout. I've been visualizing myself in the batter's box while my teammates are batting and have learned more in two years as a role player than in my whole life as a starter."
Acosta is used by the Illini primarily as a pinch runner for speed. Her freshman year saw her start once as the designated hitter (a player that bats, but doesn't play the field) against UCLA, and she recorded four at-bats and scored two runs. This past season, she scored 17 runs with three stolen bases.
Acosta has seen plenty of time in the batter's box, however. Acosta started all four years at Hoffman Estates High School, where she was coached by Lindsey Hamma, a former Illini standout player herself. Acosta hit .417 as a senior and earned MSL All-Conference and Daily Herald All-Area in 2014, a year when she was also a team captain.
Besides that, she played nine seasons of travel ball with the Schaumburg Sluggers. Acosta said the Sluggers coaches taught her a brand new hitting style that made her totally relearn batting, but it turned out for the best.
"The Sluggers organization taught me how to become a lefty slapper," Acosta said. "Learning to slap and hit from the left side changed my game completely. Having to start from scratch and re-learn how to hit made me fall more in love with the game. It wasn't easy, but without the Sluggers, I wouldn't be the player or person I am today. The Sluggers pushed me to be better, and they taught me that there is always something I can get better at on and off the field."
Whether Acosta manages to step up to the plate for the Illini this season or not, she says she's more than ready to get back out there.
"I'm am so excited and eager for this year," Acosta said. "The night of our last game last season, I couldn't stop thinking about what this team can do in 2017," Acosta said. "We have so much talent and great coaching. Now that we've seen how far we can go, the sky is the limit for us."