COLUMBIA — It’s nearing the end of a long, hard practice for Hickman’s softball team. The sun beats down on several players as they sit exhausted in the dugout, dirt and mud coating their practice clothes. A loud, booming laugh drowns out the sound of surrounding voices.
It belongs to Andrea Drake.
The senior infielder and cleanup hitter plays as big a role off the field as she does on it for the Kewpies. Whether it's a joke, a handshake or a laugh, Drake never fails to keep her teammates loose.
"I’m pretty sure she has a handshake with everyone," sophomore pitcher Riley Wilson said. "If you make an error, she’ll come up to you and joke it off with you. She won’t let you get down on yourself for it."
When first asked to describe Drake’s personality, all Hickman coach Courtney Haskell could do was laugh.
"How do you explain Andrea," Haskell said. "Give me a minute to think on that."
After a few moments of quiet contemplation, Haskell smiled again, having found exactly the right word to summarize the Kewpies’ power hitter.
"She does bring a certain … I don’t want to say goofiness, but sometimes she’s just goofy," Haskell said. "That’s the best way I can explain her."
However, Drake also knows when and where that sense of humor should be used.
"We all get a good laugh, but she knows when it’s time to be serious and take care of business," Haskell said.
And once it is that time, the senior’s play speaks louder than her antics ever could.
"Andrea brings lots of things to our team. She can hit, and when she hits it most of the time it’s going to be hard," Haskell said. "She’s not afraid to lay down the bunt, and she has good range at shortstop and second."
While she likes to maintain a pleasant atmosphere in the dugout and among her teammates, Drake’s expectations of herself are always high, and unwavering.
"I’m really hard on myself, so I’d say I’ve been average so far," Drake said. "I think I can play better, and I think the team deserves better from me."
That dedication to improvement has made Drake Hickman’s most dangerous power threat. She has compiled a .471 average and two home runs in the team's first 12 games, including a grand slam in an Aug. 23 game against Boonville.
As that long, tedious practice draws to a close, Drake is the last player to hit off of a ball machine set up on the pitcher’s mound. The machine hums quietly, waiting for a ball to be dropped in and then spit out.
The team manager drops the first ball into the machine, and it propels quickly towards Drake and the strike zone. Drake rears back, swings, and sends a sharp line drive into left field.
The next pitch is rocketed off the center field fence. The next is bulleted down the third base line, a would-be double.
Finally, perhaps mercifully, Haskell orders the ball machine to be turned off. The practice is over.
The ball machine falls silent, defeated.