COLUMBIA — The Columbia College softball team starts its practices by running and playing catch.
Then the Cougars run a drill in which one player stands near the pitcher’s mound and throws ground balls and line drives at her teammates who run, one at a time, down the first baseline.
Each player fields the ball and then throws it back to the player running the drill. If the player doesn’t catch the ball, however, she has to go again.
At a recent practice, senior Katie McMahon was the player throwing the line drives to her teammates. When it was freshman Ashley Farmer’s turn to field the ball, McMahon started throwing the ball harder than she had to her other teammates.
“They always give me the really hard ones,” Farmer said.
Farmer dropped the first ball, so she had to go again. Farmer’s teammates started to give her a hard time about the mistake. Then she dropped the next one and the one after that. With each subsequent error, more and more of the Cougars jeered at Farmer.
Senior Lindsey Williams told Farmer that she couldn’t have any Ho Hos cupcakes unless she made the play. Before heckling Farmer could ruin the drill, coach Wendy Spratt told the players to get serious.
After a couple more failed attempts, Farmer finally caught the ball. Upon her successful completion of the drill, all of teammates celebrated.
It wasn’t the first time this season that Farmer’s teammates have picked on her.
The “Ho Hos” joke has been a running theme this season. Spratt provides snacks for the team, and early in the season Farmer was constantly raiding the snack stash.
To keep her from taking more than her fair share, Farmer’s teammates decided to impose a rule that Farmer could only have a snack if she got on base.
Although her teammates pick on her constantly, Farmer enjoys the ribbing. She says it makes softball more fun.
“They make fun of her and she laughs at herself. I think had she reacted differently to them there might be an issue there,” Spratt said. “She is confident enough in herself that she doesn’t take it personally.”
Farmer left Rock Bridge High School a semester early to join the Cougars for this season, and she does not regret that decision, even with all the teasing from her teammates.
Spratt knew that her team would be in need of a catcher and an extra bat this season, so she approached Farmer last summer about potentially graduating early.
Spratt told Farmer that she could give her a full scholarship if she came this season. Spratt also told her that if she waited until next year the team might fill the roster vacancy with someone else.
The chance at the scholarship was too much for Farmer to pass up.
Farmer bats fifth for the Cougars and is second on the team in both home runs and runs batted in, providing the team with an important, powerful bat in the middle of the order. She received an All-Conference honorable mention for her accomplishments this season.
Farmer is the fourth player Spratt has brought to Columbia College a semester early.
Since she is from Columbia, Farmer’s transition was much easier than it was for the other players. Farmer lives in the dorms at Columbia College, but she goes home at times to study. Farmer has missed her high school friends though.
“This semester has been really busy with softball and I really haven’t had time to hang out with that many of them,” Farmer said. “But this summer I get all summer to hang out with them, which is cool.”
The Cougars, currently ranked No. 12 in the NAIA, are the top seed in the Region V Tournament that starts on Tuesday. If they win the tournament and advance to the national tournament, Farmer would miss her senior prom.
When asked whether she would rather go to the national tournament or her prom, Farmer said that she was not a very good dancer. That answer received a less than excited response from Spratt, who told Farmer to say she wanted to go to nationals because she loves softball.
Not everything about Farmer’s transition has been seamless.
Earlier in the season, Farmer was having difficulty throwing the ball to second from behind the plate.
She kept throwing it too hard and didn’t give second baseman Samantha Stringer a chance to get to base to catch the ball.
To help Farmer visualize how to make the throw, coach Wendy Spratt told Farmer to try to lead Stringer with her throw like a football pass. Farmer said she didn’t know what a football pass was.
“She’s really ditsy,” McMahon said. “She’s just really an air head. She’ll ask unneeded questions.”
Spratt attributes Farmer’s trouble understanding directions to a combination of her lack of common sense and her tendency to speak before she thinks.
“You expect to have to explain things to her,” Spratt said. “Now I know that I need to look at her to make sure she understands what I am saying, because maybe everybody else does but she might not.”
Despite her teammates picking on her and her occasional lack of common sense, Farmer is happy with her decision.
“If I went back I think I would have made the same decision,” Farmer said. “It’s definitely worth it.”