Welcome back to another Irrational Confidence PSA in which we try to get you to love something as much as we do. This week it’s Sooner Softball and a brief oral history of PPG, and if you didn’t expect me to write this, then I don’t know where you’ve been.
For the past four years, I’ve waited with anticipation through the winter for softball season to begin. My fascination with Sooner Softball started as a brief curiosity. Katie Norris, a friend of mine from high school, was on the team and I first came to Marita Hynes Field to support her. Us Stillwater Sooners have to stick together after all. What I found was a game I’d never really given a chance (my sister was a dancer rather than a ballplayer, and I was too focused with band and theater in high school to go out and watch that team.) and the perfect team to follow to come to love it. The game was elegant, the players phenomenal. Everything made sense. I was a fan and soon I would take it to a new level.
The next season rolled around and I started bringing friends to the game. My friend Adam was in the midst of a Quixote-esque quest to attend every sporting event that OU put on, so he was an easy sell. There were days at the field where I thought we were the entire student section and our consecutive “Fans of the Game” streak may never be equalled. Adam similarly took to the game and together we started recruiting more and more. We soon had a group of 5 for every game, and we treated softball like we would a football or basketball game. We cheered as loud as we could for our team and jeered at the opponents, eventually adopting the traditional basketball “foul out” ritual of walking a player back to the dugout after a strikeout. This, combined with our on deck “HEEYAHHHH” shriek (The phonetics on that are rough. Watch a game this year. You’ll hear it) became our trademarks. We wanted the team to know that we were there to support them, that the student body cared.
In one of our first games in full heckling swing, we were approached by an assistant coach during the fourth inning. I turned to the rest of our group and sighed saying, “Pack it in, boys. We’re about to get asked to leave.” But to my surprise, the message was that the team wanted to thank us for our support and that they loved having us at games, being rowdy and creating that homefield feel. We were thrilled. We felt like we belonged.
We finished out that season and moved on to the next. At the first game, still with our gimmick cheers and loud support (and after almost making the opposing catcher break… she shouldn’t have been calling her own balls and strikes.) we were invited into the locker room to meet the team. I don’t know if you’ve ever gotten a standing ovation from division one athletes for being a heckler, but it’s the most wonderful feeling in the world. We felt like superstars and in that moment, Patty’s Peanut Gallery was born. We had always been a thing, but the team wanted us to go official. Katie’s dad made us shirts, we had our own section, we were at every game, cheering, dancing, yelling, sometimes even in costumes. We were a presence behing home plate. We got to tailgate with the Diamond Club, OU’s softball boosters. When OU won the Bedlam series, we got to go on the field to take pictures with the trophy.
We were given guest passes for the entire post season. We were there in OKC as the Sooners blazed through the world series and came up just shy of a title.
I sadly graduated and had to relenquish my spot in PPG for a while (Old hecklers never die. They just go to grad school). But Adam’s keeping the dream alive, recruiting new fans and trying to get more people to share in the game we came to love so much.
I didn’t think the team could get any better this year, but somehow they did. They’re currently 15-0 going into today’s home opener, 7-0 against ranked teams, and haven’t allowed a run in Top-25 matchups. That’s incredible. For those of you who aren’t hooked on softball yet (YOU SHOULD BE) allow me to give you a primer in this year’s team.
- Any discussion of OU Softball has to start with Keilani Rickets. The reigning national player of the year, Keilani is fearsome in the circle. Her fastball is too strong for most hitters. Add in her “cropduster” curve, a ball that defies all notions of physics with its movement, and an absolutely nasty change, and she’s almost unhittable. She’s currently 7-0 with a 0.78 ERA and has already thrown two no-hitters, including one against the then-#5 team in the country. Add in her fearsome presence at the plate, and you’ve got probably the most complete player in the NCAA this year.
- Not to be outdone, number two starter Michelle Gascoigne has come out firing. She actually has the team strikeout lead with 82 and a similarly filthy 0.82 ERA. Michelle woudl be a number one starter on most teams in the country. To have her as a backup is an incredible boon. Teams don’t get to rest against the Sooners pitchers.
- Coach Gasso has loaded the top of the line up this year. All-world sophomore first baseman Lauren Chamberlain leads off with power, already on pace to break the Big 12 career home run record (currently held by teammate Jessica Shults) later this year. Following Chamberlain in the order is Georgia Casey, the captain, catcher Jessica Shults, Ricketts, and Arizona transfer Shelby Pendley. If a pitcher manages to get through that murderer’s row unscathed, waiting for them is a talented outfield corps usually made up of power hitter Brittany Williams and speedsters Destinee Martinez and Brianna Turang. This sets the stage to bring the power back around and do even more damage. The Sooners are capable of 11+ run innings, something they’ve accomplished already this year.
- The Sooners could probably field two independent outfield units and be fine. Williams, Turang, Martinez, as well as sophomores Callie Parsons, Kelley Reeves, and Erica Sampson are all supremely talented and it’s a blessing and a curse to see such a back log of talent.
- Also making an impact are the seven freshmen on the team. They got some burn in the early season tournament play and have shown that the future is bright for Sooner Softball. With some time to develop, this team could keep getting scarier.
- This is the most dominant team OU has right now. They’re not just winning, they’re embarrasing teams. It’s a beautiful thing to watch a team I care about create so much buzz in the community. It’s safe to say that the Peanut Gallery won’t be the only students in the stands this season. Though they will be the best.
- There is nothing stopping this team from winning the national championship this year. The pitching is lights out, the hitting is otherworldly, the fielding is smart. They’re supremely talented and if they can harness all of that power, they’ll be the ones hoisting the trophy in OKC this summer.
Despite some run-ins with surly opposing parents, my time as field general of PPG contains some of my favorite stories from undergrad, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Watching these talented women doing what they love and what they’re the best in the world at is an experience I’ll never forget. As I watch this season from Dallas, preparing for my pilgrimage back to Marita Hynes Field in April, I’m excited to see where this team goes and thrilled to see new fans embracing it.