BASEBALL: Scarred, but not scared

Wes Watt

There is a two-inch scar on her right wrist. It is as wide as a thumbnail and it is responsible for a year of missed softball games.

However, the physical scar on her wrist is no comparison to the separation between her and her team.

Jessie Richardson began last year as one of the best softball players in Western history. She was excited about her senior season and about spending that time with her fellow seniors.

One year and two surgeries later, she is excelling on the field but struggling with loneliness.

That two-inch scar represents missed friends – friends who she planned on sharing her senior year with but who are now long gone.

Richardson is a fifth-year senior on the softball team, but a fifth year wasn’t part of her original plan.

Physical scars aren’t the only thing Richardson has to show from her injury – there are mental ones as well.

The months of rehabilitation repaired her injured wrist and shoulder for her return to the team. But she quickly realized it was not the same team she left. Not even rehab could repair the fact that her closest friends on the team are gone and Richardson is left as the oldest member of the Lady Toppers.

The loneliness of being isolated by age has taken its toll on her. All of Richardson’s close teammates have graduated and moved on to other phases in their lives – something Richardson was prepared to embark on as well.

The aspect of being the oldest on the team has been one of the hardest adversities she has had to overcome. She said she has friends on the team, but it’s just not the same.

“I was sad that I wasn’t going to finish with them,” Richardson said. “It was hard to choke; I was supposed to end (my career).”

Last March, the senior outfielder was spending her time in physical rehabilitation. But this March is different. Instead, she is spending her time where she should be spending it: knocking big yellow balls over fences that are more than 200 feet away.

After injuring her wrist in mid-February last season, Richardson decided to take a medical redshirt and miss her senior season. The decision was not easy to make. Richardson had a long road back to the diamond. But she is back in full swing and playing some of her best ball.

Richardson now holds school records in RBIs, home runs and runs scored, and she needs just four stolen bases to move into first place on that list.

Coach Leslie Phelan isn’t surprised Richardson decided to come back and use her final year of eligibility. Phelan said she would have hated to see her star outfielder’s career come to an end with an injury.

“She loves to play the game,” Phelan said.

“She always has and I knew she did not want to go out with what happened last year.”

But despite coming back and playing well, she does have her scars from the injury.

The wrist injury occured when she put her hand through a glass window on a door she was painting at her apartment.

The original diagnoses was that Richardson would be out only a few weeks. But after doctors found out the glass had severed three tendons in her wrist, she was told that if she was able to come back that season, it wouldn’t be until the very end.

“It broke my heart,” Richardson said. “I was graduating; I was ready to be done.”

But rather than see her four years of hard work wasted, she decided to take the redshirt year and go through painful and frustrating rehab.

Instead of enjoying her senior season and practicing with her team, she would spend hours squeezing a tiny rubber ball to strengthen the severed tendons.

But her wrist is not the only thing Richardson had to rehabilitate. After putting off shoulder surgery for years, Richardson decided this was the best time to repair the shoulder, because she was going to be out anyway. She said this way she would be 100 percent when she returned.

Along with the painful rehabilitation and the distant feeling from her team, she also has to deal with the pressures of graduate school.

Richardson no longer has classes during the day – her classes are all at night. Just another difference she’s had to adjust to.

“It’s been more hard to deal with school than softball,” Richardson said. “Just because my mind was ready to be done.”

After getting her bachelor’s degree in therapeutic recreation, Richardson is getting her graduate degree in recreation administration.

She has used her experiences in rehab to help make other people’s lives better. By interning at a local rehabilitation center, Richardson was able to use her experience to help others get through their own rehabs.

Richardson’s father is glad his daughter decided to come back, not only to finish her softball career, but also for her education.

“I thought it was a great decision to come back. It just didn’t seem right to end it that way,” Tracy Richardson said. “She’s furthering herself and the more education you get, that’s what it takes.”

Phelan said the load that Richardson has taken would be hard to handle for anyone. But Phelan knew she could handle the pressure. That is why Phelan decided to take a chance and hold off recruiting replacement players when the injury occurred.

“Jessie fits the character and personality of the players we want,” Phelan said. “I’ll take a proven player over a freshman who’s never played at the Division I level any day.”

As for Richardson, she just wanted to go out and play ball.

“I just wanted to have fun,” Richardson said. “It’s been so long since I’ve stepped on the field and left everything out there. So far that’s what happened. I am completely happy with my decision.”

Reach Wes Watt at [email protected]