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Kelsey Bequette gets chance to play for Tolton's boys baseball team

Friday, May 17, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT
Tolton Catholic sophomore Kelsey Bequette practices her swing during an indoor practice Friday in the Tolton High School gym. Bequette was a manager for the Trailblazer baseball team but has played in the last three games. Coach Mike Johnson said her defense is on par with the rest of the team, but is still working on adjusting to the heaviness of the bats in baseball compared to those used for softball.

COLUMBIA — Kelsey Bequette stood in the batter's box like she had countless times before, her carefree attitude replaced with fear.

How on earth did she get here?

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Just a week before, Bequette occupied a spot on the Tolton Catholic High School bench as one of the boy's baseball team's managers and scorekeepers. A softball player for Tolton and the Columbia Rockers, Bequette volunteered to manage the team as an extracurricular activity during the spring. She tried soccer last year, but it wasn't really her thing. Softball and baseball seemed similar enough, so why not keep score?

However, the two sports didn't seem similar at all the first time she stepped to bat for the Tolton baseball team. The Paris High School pitcher she was facing was a boy. He'd be throwing overhand, hard and right at her. The facemask was missing from her batting helmet. In addition, this was the first pitched baseball the scorekeeper-turned-outfielder had ever faced.

"I was kind of scared," Bequette said about her plate appearance. "I didn’t know how fast it would be because it always seems like baseball would be faster."

All fear was pushed aside after the pitch was released. The ball was hurled slower than she had imagined. Her bat made contact just like it did in softball.

Line drive.

***

Bequette remembers sharing the news with her parents. 

"Hey mom and dad, by the way, what would you say if I played baseball?"

Bequette knew they'd be fine with their daughter suiting up for the Trailblazers. She was already at all of their games scorekeeping and was just as much a part of the team as any of the boys that she penciled into the scorecard.

Bequette was asked to play for Tolton after injuries and academic ineligibility left coach Mike Johnson with a void on his bench. Johnson was used to having a small roster for this first-year varsity program, but now he was dangerously low on players. So he approached Bequette, who was hitting softballs at a backstop like she did after all the team's practices.

"I was managing first, and at the beginning of the season, Coach kind of joked around and said, ‘Hey, you should play,'" Bequette said. "Then before the Paris game he goes, ‘So people are out for grades and injuries. You’re going to be playing next week. You'll get your uniform on Monday.' I was like, ‘What?!'"

It was the perfect union. A coach willing to teach anyone the game of baseball and a sophomore willing to give anything a shot. 

"I hadn’t seen a baseball pitched before from the plate," Bequette said. "I was kind of scared of that, but now it's just like hitting for softball."

***

Bequette noticed more differences between the two sports than just overhand pitching. Throwing and catching the smaller baseball took some getting used to.

"My hand doesn't really fit around a softball, so I have to use all of my fingers to grip it," Bequette said. "So when I'm just fielding ground balls (in baseball) it sometimes gets stuck in my hands because I'll find myself gripping it with my whole hand. 

Bequette used her softball glove to patrol right field for the Tolton baseball team. She only played in Tolton's last four games, and was accustomed to her mitt specifically designed for softball.

"I can't feel the ball sometimes," Bequette said. "I don't know if it's actually in my glove or not because it's (the ball is) so small."

MU softball player Jenna Marston knows the opposite of what Bequette went through. Originally a baseball player, Marston had to adjust to softball in high school while also playing on her school's baseball team.

"For me going back to baseball is a much more natural transition," Marston said. "Just with the ball size it’s a lot more comfortable to throw a baseball than to throw a softball."

Marston's play in baseball elevated her to a spot on the U.S. national women's baseball team. She says her experience with baseball has made her a better softball player, and encouraged Bequette to stick with it.

"Playing with guys can only make you better," Marston said.

***

Her voice doesn't sound like the howls bellowing from the other side of the dugout. There's a sense of calm in it. It's quieter, higher pitched — a soprano to their pubescent tenors and baritones. But through her experience with scorekeeping, Bequette's baseball knowledge rivals that of her male classmates who are now her teammates.

It wasn't always that way, though. Bequette had to learn scorekeeping on the job after accepting the role this season.   

"My mom kept score for my competitive softball team, so she showed me how to do it a little bit," Bequette said. "I didn't really know how to do it the first game, but I'm better at scorekeeping now." 

After that first game, Bequette figured out how to fill in the scorecard. She knows to write a backwards "K" when one of the Trailblazers strikes out looking. She knows how to darken the diamond with her pencil after a runner scores. She knows how to order Johnson's lineup, from Jon Steinmetz down to Aaron Sander. That's all part of the sophomore's job description. It's the rest of her baseball understanding, though, that stands out.

She knows which bats the Tolton players should use.

She always knows what's going on in the game.

"Tate, what was your count?" a Tolton player asks catcher Tate Cooper after he flies out to left.

"Oh and two," another Trailblazer chimes in.

"I had oh and one," Bequette says, confident in her answer.

 "Yeah, it was oh and one," Cooper says.

"Told you," Bequette smirks.

She knows how to talk like the guys in the dugout. "Here you go, Parker. Here you go one-oh," Bequette chatters as the sophomore pitcher, Parker Wilkerson, steps up to the plate against a Missouri Military Academy pitcher.

By the end of the season, it was Bequette who was getting rah-rah'd as she stepped up to the plate. Bequette still kept score for Tolton when she wasn't hitting or in the outfield, only this time with her name penciled in the lineup.

***

Bequette isn't the first girl to jump between baseball and softball.  She also doesn't play for the novelty or to get better at softball, her favorite sport. She plays for the competition.

Tolton (4-12) drastically improved its record once Bequette started playing, winning its last three games before the districtplayoffs,only to be eliminated by a strong Linn team. Bequette was unable to play in the district game due to a softball tournament with the Rockers, so her undefeated record as a baseball player still stands.

"The whole team calls me their secret weapon," Bequette said.

She plays for the camaraderie. The boys on the team have embraced their secret weapon like one of their own, hollering for No. 4 just like she hollers for them every time they step to the plate. They're all friends at Tolton. Bequette's play also drew some of her girl classmates to the last home game; The MMA doubleheader at Columbia's American Legion Park resembled a Tolton block party.

"She seriously might be the nicest kid in the school," Johnson said. She gets along with everyone. Having a girl play and maybe take a position where another player could be ... if it were another student or player maybe there’s an issue but not once was there ever any jealousy and that’s because who Kelsey is."

"It's just really fun," Bequette said. "I'd love to play again next year but if there's enough players ... we'll see how it plays out."


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