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Small town of Silex births Missouri softball sisters

Saturday, February 1, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CST
Freshman Natalie Fleming reacts to her teammates during Wednesday's practice at the Devine Athletic Pavilion. Fleming is from Silex.

COLUMBIA — Natalie Fleming didn't want to be interviewed.

The freshman joined her fellow Missouri softball teammates at the end of practice Wednesday, grabbed her equipment from the heap in the middle of Devine Practice Facility and walked toward the looming line of media.

Patrick Crawford, the team's assistant director of strategic communications, motioned to Fleming, directing her toward her waiting interview. She hesitated and seemed uncertain.

But her softball experience speaks volumes. She was a three-time All-State player in Missouri and batted nearly .600 as a junior and .550 as a sophomore in high school, so she knows her way around the plate and the diamond.

She followed in the footsteps of her older sister, Ashley Fleming, who was on the MU softball team from 2009 to 2012.

But Natalie Fleming has never liked interviews, often getting tongue-tied.

"Usually she goes and hides," her father, Mark Fleming, said of the youngest Tiger in a phone interview.

Growing up, the Fleming sisters would feed pigs out on their family's farm in Silex, Mo.

They carried little shovels and rode four-wheelers with their three brothers to help their dad with the day's work — or, if they were young enough, play. They hunted turkeys and went fishing.

Their father called Ashley Fleming the "mother hen" on the farm and around the house because she was the oldest. She made to-do lists on sticky notes to keep organized and gave advice to her younger siblings, whether they listened to it or not.

The small town of Silex might seem an unlikely place to produce not one, but two standout softball players. Even Ashley Fleming didn't really think about Division I opportunities at first — only one girl from her town had played a Division I sport before.

"They're from Silex. I mean, nobody knows about Silex," coach Ehren Earleywine said.

But the Flemings' big country yard in that small unknown town created athletes. A family of seven lent itself to softball or Wiffle ball games on weekends.

"Kids now play video games or are on the computer," Ashley Fleming said. "We were out in the yard."

Ashley Fleming's talent in both softball and basketball made her a big fish in a small pond. She was interviewed all the time. She got used to it.

The "mother hen" grew to be as meticulous as a Tiger.

"There were so many nights where I got a text message from Ashley, and I look down, and I go, 'If I answer this, I'm going to be doing this 'til 10 o'clock tonight,'" Earleywine said.

She was logical and calculated, always asking questions.

In Natalie Fleming's bio page on MU softball's website, she's listed as the "younger sister of former Mizzou standout Ashley Fleming."

Ashley Fleming was the team's best hitter in 2011, with a .356 batting average, 14 home runs en route to second-team All-American honors as a senior.

The sisters have always had competitions between themselves, seeing who has more home runs or hits.

But really, Natalie Fleming doesn't like being compared.

At practice Wednesday, she smacked her gum as she manned third base. She made a dramatic diving catch and stood up laughing.

"Natalie is just ... she goes with the flow," junior first baseman Kelsea Roth said.

Natalie Fleming didn't make a schedule or a plan for when she started at MU. Her sister helped do that for her.

The younger sister just isn't a list-maker.

Differences aside, the Flemings have common roots in their small-town upbringing.

"I love stories like that because to me, those are the people that make up the backbone of what this state is," Earleywine said. "Any time you can recruit a kid from that type of an environment ... not only does it represent our state well, but when that kid looks down at their jersey and they see 'Mizzou' across it, it means something to them."

Even if she's not fond of talking about it.

 Supervising editor is Sean Morrison.


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