By Rachel Nasland
The Mary Nutter Classic might be one of the most iconic college softball weekends for players and fans alike.
As a young softball player, you go with your rec and travel teams to witness the highest level of softball.
As a high school recruit, you go to watch the teams and coaches you hope to play for.
As a player, you go to play against the toughest competition in the game.
I continue to reminisce about the memories that comprise my time as a softball player as I near my concluding months and final season as a student-athlete for the Irish—and now even more so as I approach this weekend. All of the best college softball teams in the country travel to Palm Springs in the beginning of their seasons to play at the Big League Dreams complex in the Mary Nutter Classic.
Not only are the fields modeled after Major League Baseball stadiums, but the five-diamond complex offers an array of games between teams that may not play otherwise. Growing up, this was the only place where you’d see a SEC team match up with a BIG10 team on one diamond, while an ACC team takes on a PAC12 team.
The atmosphere is electric as the stands are always packed with spectators ranging from young, aspiring softball players to families and fans. It is the hub of softball.
In high school, my dad and I used to take spur-of-the-moment trips together to Palm Springs to watch the legendary players and softball teams compete. I remember watching Washington play while in their reign of dominance, UCLA pitch Donna Kerr (a pitching inspiration for me since I began to learn the trade), and U of A uphold their ranked status, among a number of other renowned teams.
I loved this tournament. It is where I first witnessed softball on the college stage. It is where I tried to watch and mimic the pitchers, just so that I could be closer in their likeness. It is where I dreamed about the days that I would play on these same fields.
For me, the Mary Nutter Classic isn’t just another weekend of softball games. This tournament represents my transition from a spectator, watching games for hours on end, to a player on the other side of the fence. And now, this weekend will mark the final time I step on the Field of Dreams in Palm Springs as a player for the Irish.
I have been a pitcher for as long as I can remember. I began playing softball at five years old, and by the age of seven I committed to the switch from overhand to underhand throwing (except for when I have to make the throw to first, of course!;) ). I wanted to be a pitcher in the middle of all the action. Softball is not just what I do, what I play, what takes up most of my time, and what has given me some of my worst and best times, but it is WHO I am.
People often say not to let your sport define you but I am entirely defined by my sport.
The dirt fields raised me. When I am standing on the mound in the middle of field, inside the secluded circle, I feel most like myself. Pitching has taught me to be tough, to be smart and strategic, and to hold myself in confidence—not just for my sake but for my team’s as well. Being at the center of all the action, my team depends on me to remain reliable, resilient and composed against some of our toughest competitors. I live for the moments my team needs me most, while my greatest memories are celebrating the difficult games we fought to win.
Although this is just one weekend out of the 60+ game season, and not even the first or last weekend of season, this tournament is a milestone for me in my senior year. Being in Palm Springs and playing at the Big League Dreams complex is a reminder that my time as a softball player will be coming to an end shortly. As I look forward to what the rest of my senior year season has in store, this weekend will always remain an important part of my softball career as it brings my journey as a pitcher and a person full circle.
I will always look back on my time at the Mary Nutter Classic fondly, remembering when I was a little girl in the stands with big dreams and how I took the circle for the Irish.