COLUMBIA — Two youth baseball games are underway in the fields surrounding Antimi Black Field in Cosmopolitan Park. Beyond that, several children's soccer teams face off, the players' families lining the sidelines on blankets and fold-up chairs. Some children play catch with their parents.
But that's not why Abby Pulliam is here.
The Cougars split their doubleheader against No. 5 Williams Baptist College on Saturday, losing the first game 8-6 and winning the second 5-3.
The Cougars are now 13-14 overall and 8-2 in the American Midwest Conference.
Columbia College's victory in Game 2 was the first loss in the American Midwest Conference for Williams Baptist, ranked No. 5 in the NAIA national poll.
Junior pitcher Taylor Richter earned her first loss in four starts, allowing seven runs (six earned) on eight hits in 3 2/3 innings. Freshman Amber Boehme relieved Richter in the fourth inning, allowing a run on just one hit in the remaining 3 1/3 innings.
Senior Chelsie Crain had two of the Cougars' eight hits in Game 1, and sophomore Jessica Hardy had a team-high three RBIs.
Freshman pitcher Tiffany Urwiler earned her second straight complete game win in Game 2, allowing three runs on eight hits. Hardy and senior Karina Veit led the team with three hits each, and junior Jamie Holmes had two hits and two RBIs.
The Cougars are set to play a doubleheader Monday at Benedictine-Springfield (Ill.).
A couple sit their three young children on a blanket next to the dugout. The couple settle in their chairs with a bag of Jimmy John's, handing out sandwiches to the youngsters. The children all have their backs to the field as they occupy themselves with the food.
They don't see junior Jamie Holmes give Columbia College's softball team its first run of Saturday's doubleheader against Williams Baptist College. They don't see sophomore Jessica Hardy's home run that followed.
But Abby Pulliam sees.
This is Abby's first Columbia College softball game, and she's here to watch.
Cougars sophomore Maria Imhoff acts as Abby's pitching coach, so the 8-year-old wanted to come see her role model in action. Although Imhoff didn't pitch in either game Saturday, Abby didn't take her eyes off the game. Her father, Nathan Pulliam, hoisted her up so she could stand — her feet in mismatched pink socks — on the bleachers for a better view.
Every time Imhoff stepped up to bat, Abby cheered her name.
Imhoff didn't hear. But she had seen Abby and knew she was there, glad to know the shy girl she had first met as a volunteer youth coach was opening up and catching on to the rules of softball.
Abby's got plenty of knowledge when it comes to softball, playing in the Columbia Rockers 10-and-under league. She knows all the most important things about the sport, like if you lead off before the ball is out of the pitcher's hand, then you're out.
And she's always willing to learn more, asking her father questions while other children run around the field, hardly paying attention.
Imhoff is Abby's favorite player. But she's not biased. Her favorite part of the first game was when senior Chelsie Crain "made a home run."
In Game 1, Columbia College took an early 4-0 lead, but they lost it after four innings, 8-6.
But ask 8-year-old Abby how the team did, and she'll tell you, "Good."
Abby left before the Cougars could secure a 5-3 Game 2 victory. But she had seen what she needed to see, knowing that the most important part of a softball game is to "at least have fun and be confident."
As she and her father walked away, she carried the sunflower seeds that she had been eating, and spitting, during the game. A softball fan to the core.