March 23, 2015
By Brad Muller | More Features
Athletes sometimes have to "change their game" when it comes to adjusting to a new level of play. Former South Carolina softball student-athlete Codee Yeske took that to a new level and is currently playing for the USA Baseball Women's National Team with the hopes of making the final roster to compete in the Pan American Games this summer.
"I guess I always carried myself like a baseball player," Yeske said. "I never played baseball, but a lot of people told me that I could have. I just saw an opportunity, and (South Carolina associate head coach) Lisa Navas thought I would be good at it. I really respect her and her opinion, so I figured why not give it a shot."
The former South Carolina third baseman graduated in 2014 after playing three seasons in Columbia and helped the Gamecocks reach the NCAA Tournament following her junior and senior seasons. After being told about tryouts for Team USA by coach Navas and finishing up her internship for graduation, Yeske decided to go for it.
"I had just graduated and I hadn't found a job yet," Yeske said. "So I figured, why not? If I don't make it, it's no big deal. No harm, no foul. If I make it, then I can do this and I don't have to give up playing ball yet. It was sort of like spring training for baseball. It was a lot different than anything I've ever done for softball. My body was lot more tired than usual."
After a few scrimmages at the tryout, she made the cut and was officially on the Team USA Trials Roster consisting of 36 players. She had the opportunity to make the travelling squad that went 5-0 at the Pan American Games Qualifier in Santiago, Dominican Republic, earlier this month. The next step is to make it through the final cuts for Team USA in May as the roster is trimmed to 18 players and compete at the Pan American Games this summer in Toronto, Canada.
Although there are similarities in softball and baseball, Yeske had to make a few adjustments, including base running as she had been accustomed to not being allowed to take a lead off the base in softball.
"I would take five steps off the bag and my coach would tell me to take a few more, and I'd say no way," Yeske laughed. "I thought I was so far off that I'd get picked off. During the scrimmages, I was sort of playing scared because I didn't want to be the kid who kept getting picked off. My coach kept telling me to go further."
She also had to adjust to the speed of the pitching, but in a different way than one might think.
"In women's baseball, our 'ace' throws about 85 miles per hour, and she is one of the best," Yeske said. "If you take an 85 mile per hour pitch from 60 feet, 6 inches away, it's a lot slower than a 75 mile per hour pitch from 43 feet away in softball. So in baseball, it felt a lot slower. I was a very aggressive hitter throughout my softball career, and having to slow down is a big adjustment. For me, the biggest thing is there is no rise ball in baseball. That was my strikeout pitch, so I'm happy about that."
That's not to say that hitting a baseball is always easy, however.
"When we were in the Dominican Republic, I saw my first really good baseball curveball," Yeske said. "I struck out during that at bat, and my teammates were laughing and telling me that they remembered their first curveball and that I'd get used to it. The pitches are different, but I think the ball is easier to see. That's a blessing. Maybe because it feels like it's coming in slower, and I feel like I have more time to react. I had been training to hit a baseball for the last three or fourth months, but the in-game adjustment was hard at first."
Defensively, Yeske noted that the fundamentals for baseball and softball are the same, but in many cases she feels like there is more time to throw a runner out in the infield.
"I'm used to getting rid of the ball so quickly, so I've had to make that adjustment too," Yeske said. "You can turn a lot more double plays in baseball, so that's pretty cool. That's a lot of fun."
Whenever you go into a program, no matter what you do, you want to leave it better than you came in. So it was great to be able to see it grow and progress every year.
The USA Women's Baseball National Team consists of players of all ages.
"There is a kid who is 15 and another woman in her 40s," Yeske said. "There is so much veteran talent on that team. Most are girls who played college softball but grew up playing baseball, so they just went back to it. It's a cool environment to be around. Playing teams from other countries where the girls grew up only playing baseball, that's really cool too. For a lot of them, it's their dream to play on the national team and play in the Pan Am games."
Yeske enjoyed her first taste of international competition and collected her first hit in a win against the Dominican Republic and later stroked a double in a victory over Venezuela.
"I originally went down there as an alternate third baseman, but in the second inning of our first game, our starter busted her knee open and so I was in there for the rest of the week," Yeske said. "I was nervous, but I just told myself to try to get on base. In my first game I think I walked twice and was hit by a pitch. So I thought, that's not so bad. I'll take it."
The USA Women's National Team began playing in 2004, but an accurate retrospective wasn't exactly captured at a video presentation of the history of women's baseball during opening ceremonies of the qualifying tournament in the Dominican Republic.
"The only things they had in there for the USA Team were clips from A League of Their Own," Yeske said. "They didn't have pictures of us or past teams. Just clips from the movie."
As she tries to earn her spot on the final roster, Yeske is already proud to have put on the red, white and blue jersey.
"It doesn't matter how you're doing it," Yeske said. "When you're representing your country, it really is an honor. This is as high as it goes for women's baseball. When you think of it that way, you realize you're doing something pretty special. We're just blessed to be able to still play ball. It is a huge honor to put Team USA across your chest. You don't realize how big of a deal it is until you see a little kid come out of the dugout and ask for a ball or something."
Yeske looks forward to the next round of training, and hopes her new-found playing career will go on a little longer.
"It would be awesome to make the team," Yeske said. "This is like our Olympics. So if I could make the team, it would be spectacular. If I don't make the team, I guess I'll grow up and start looking for a big-girl job. Until that point, I'm just going to keep trying my best to make the team."
The former Gamecock who hit the first home run in the history of the new Carolina Softball Stadium at Beckham Field against Alabama All-American Jackie Traina is thankful for her opportunity to play at South Carolina and beyond.
"I still have that picture from the home run as my screensaver on my laptop," Yeske said. "One of my favorite memories is sitting on Coach Bev's (Smith) living room in 2013 and hearing the announcement that we were getting our first NCAA regional tournament berth in about six years. Whenever you go into a program, no matter what you do, you want to leave it better than you came in. So it was great to be able to see it grow and progress every year."
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