April 10, 2002
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. –
Since her arrival in Tallahassee as a freshman almost three years ago, Seminole second baseman Brandi Stuart has grown as a person and as a player. The two-time Easton All-American hasn’t accomplished everything she wants to on the field yet but she isn’t in a rush to fulfill all her goals either and that is quite a change.
“I have slowed down a lot since I left California,” said Stuart. “I see it even more when I go home. People are always in such a rush back home but I have learned that you don’t need to rush through life.”
Although she has learned that she doesn’t have to rush through life, that hasn’t stopped her from rushing to the top of the Florida State record books with her play on the field. For the second consecutive season, the junior from Cerritos, CA is Florida State’s leading hitter and she is still looking to improve her game every year.
“It has always been a goal of mine to improve from year to year,” she said. “Every summer I work a little bit harder than I did the summer before. But that success is also a by-product of the people who are around me. The more you enjoy yourself, the easier things come to you and the girls I play with make everyday enjoyable.”
With her teammates help, Stuart has improved her play every year she has been at FSU. After a stellar rookie campaign, she improved in almost every category during the 2001 season. Stuart raised her batting average 12 percentage points from .349 to .361, scored 10 more runs (49 versus 39), doubled her doubles (from 6 to 12) and hit more than twice as many home runs (5 compared to 2). She equaled her RBI total of 36 and raised her slugging percentage from .442 to .515, an increase of 73 percentage points. She also cut down on her strikeouts by almost 38% (from 34 to 21).
The trend of Stuart improving her game from year to year looks to be holding up this season too. Through 44 games in 2001 and 2002, the junior has shown improvement in almost every category despite playing against 11 ranked teams this season compared to just one last year. Stuart has raised her batting average (from .394 to .396), raised her slugging percentage almost 100 percentage points (from .551 to .649), scored three more runs (33 compared to 36), hit one more double (seven compared to six), hit five more home runs (eight compared to three) and stolen almost twice as many bases (36 compared to 19). Her fielding percentage has improved from .931 to .959 and she is even getting on base more frequently (.471 compared to .462).
At her current pace, Stuart will finish in the top two for runs scored and home runs, first in doubles, fifth in triples, third in steals and first in RBIs amongst FSU’s all-time leaders. She would single-handedly wipe away almost 20 years of history but right now that isn’t what she is concerned with.
“I try not to think about setting records,” said Stuart. “I don’t respond well if I go out and worry about what individual records lie ahead for me. I’ll just wait until my playing career is over here and then look at the numbers and see what I have accomplished.”
Stuart leads FSU in 10 offensive categories.
After leading the team in seven different offensive categories as a sophomore, Stuart has assumed an even greater offensive role this season and now leads the club in ten offensive categories through two-thirds of the season.
Even though she seems to be meeting one of the goals she set when she arrived at Florida State, there is still one goal that has eluded her. Despite being an Easton All-American the last two seasons, Stuart has yet to garner Louisville Slugger/NFCA All-American honors, which is an award that comes from a larger pool of candidates.
“One of the goals I set when I came to FSU was to be an All-American in one of my four years here,” said Stuart. “Being an All-American is important but I try not to put a lot of emphasis on it. But I can’t say that it isn’t really important to me. I was honored to be a third team Easton All-American as a freshman and a second-team Easton All-American as a sophomore but I still haven’t been able to make it on the NFCA/Louisville Slugger All-American team. I see that as a challenge and I hope I’ll make it someday.”
Every great athlete is driven by individual goals but that doesn’t mean those goals are more important than what they want to accomplish with their team and the same is true for Stuart. She knows that it is an honor to garner individual recognition and that it can be used as motivation to become a better player but those goals don’t come before team goals.
“I’d rather win first and foremost,” said Stuart. “Individual goals are important but not more so than what we can accomplish together as a group.”
BECOMING A LEADER
One of the biggest changes in Stuart this season is her role as the team’s vocal leader. She and teammate Kimmy Carter were elected co-captains coming into the 2002 season and both have always led with their actions on and off the field. Stuart has had to learn to take her role another step and be one of the people who actively tries to lead rather than just hoping people will follow her example.
“The loss of a lot of our senior leaders kind of made me look at my role on this team more closely,” she said. “We are a young team and I took the responsibility to let the younger players know what is expected of them. I wanted to do more than just trying to lead by example.
“I think my role is to try and show our younger players that winning is important but so is having a good time. I wanted them to know what Florida State softball is all about. You see so many teams that just don’t seem like they are having fun. They might be winning but not enjoying it. Since I have been here, we have had the reputation of being successful and having a good time while we do it. This is a game and its fun but if we are going to put in all the time and effort we might as well win also.”
With as many as four newcomers starting at various points this season, Stuart has taken her new role seriously. She has been one of the positive voices that can be heard over everything else no matter how high the highs have been this season or how low the team has felt after some of the losses. With two true freshmen starting almost every game, Stuart’s experience has been a resource this year’s younger players can tap into anytime they need to.
Stuart has taken on a new leadership role this season
“There really isn’t any pressure on me to be a leader on or off the field,” said Stuart. “I don’t put pressure on myself and nobody else puts pressure on me. I enjoy this role and I try to let the younger players know that the only pressure is to play well and have a good time. Off the field it is really the same thing. We all enjoy spending time together and that makes things so much easier for all of us.”
While she may be more vocal when it comes to softball, Stuart is still leading by example when it comes to her off-the-field activities. The junior is a two-time member of the Dean’s List and president of the Student Athletic Advisory Council (SAAC). She serves as a liaison between Florida State’s student athletes and the administration and is also Florida State’s representative on the ACC SAAC.
“The Student Athletic Advisory Council’s focus is to serve as a liaison between student athletes and the administration,” said Stuart. “We work on the problems student-athletes have and try to make sure both the administration and the student-athlete is happy.
“Coach (JoAnne) Graf nominated me to be a part of SAAC as a sophomore and I liked the organization and what they were trying to accomplish so I stuck with it. I think we are given the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of student-athletes. Sometimes it takes time but there have been other times when our Athletic Director Mr. (Dave) Hart or associate athletic directors like Kim Record and Charlie Carr made changes based on our suggestions and that is satisfying.”
BEING A STUDENT AND AN ATHLETE
With so much of her time spent divided between softball and SAAC, Stuart still finds the time to excel in the classroom. Despite being a member of the Dean’s List and the ACC Academic Honor Roll, the demands of being a student are the most difficult to live up to in her estimation.
“The student part of student-athlete is definitely the most difficult part,” she said. “Being the athlete isn’t that hard. Being a student is difficult because you need teachers and professors who understand the demands on our time when it comes to traveling. During season that is really important. We get great support from our Academic Support Department but we do the work and it is difficult sometimes. There is a misconception out there that student-athletes get things done for them when it comes to school. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
“I know I will be judged by my grades after softball is over and I will be competing against students from every university in the country for jobs. I can’t just slide by if I want to accomplish certain things after softball is over. There really isn’t a viable professional setting for softball so that makes you change your focus and appreciate how important the academic side is to your future.”
Stuart is chasing the school record for home runs and is just one away.
With all of the demands put on her time, it might surprise some that Stuart seems to thrive under those conditions. She seems to be happiest when she doesn’t have a free minute in the day.
“It really isn’t hard for me to balance everything because it’s a lot of fun,” said Stuart. “I thrive on being busy because it doesn’t allow me time to slack off. I have too much to do to not get things done.”
So with her work in the classroom, on the field and with SAAC, where does Stuart think she will be most remembered?
“If there is a legacy to be left, I would hope it would come from my work in all three areas,” she said. “I would like to think I am setting a standard that others will want to live up to and that would be a great mark to leave when I have graduated and moved on.”
CHANGE AND MATURITY
Stuart has not only learned to slow down since her arrival in Tallahassee. She has also grown up a lot over the last three years. When she came to FSU, Stuart was a very serious person who felt she had to prove her worth every day. She put pressure on herself to make sure everyone knew that she deserved to be here.
“I am more mature now,” Stuart recalls. “I can laugh at myself and I wasn’t able to do that when I came here. As a freshman, I put a lot of pressure on myself and there was a lot of stress. That has been the biggest change for me. I was very serious about everything and I have learned that life is way too short for that. I want to enjoy my time here and also try to make the people around me enjoy themselves also.”
Stuart credits her more mature outlook to a close-knit group of friends she has made since she has been in Tallahassee. With her family thousands of miles away in Cerritos, Stuart was lucky enough to find people who she now considers her Tallahassee family. People who have not only been here for her but who have helped her grow as a person off the field and on it also.
“I have learned to enjoy the game. My friends have helped me to learn that lesson,” said Stuart. “They have also helped me to remain determined and to not settle for anything but the best from myself. I thank them for that because it changed my approach to the game.”
Even with her Tallahassee family in place, Stuart has never felt like distance has separated her from her family in California. The Stuarts make their annual trips to the Seminole Softball complex to see their daughter and sister play and with the team making four trips to California in the last three years, her family has been with her every step of the way. But even if she only saw her family during the summer, Stuart has never felt that she was too far from the people who have supported her every day of her life.
“My family is so awesome,” Stuart said as her face lit up. “They are on the internet for every game so they know what’s going on with us. It is kind of weird but it feels like I never left. I never feel like my family isn’t there. I always know they are thinking of me and will love me whether I go 0-for-3 or 3-for-3. My family at home and here in Tallahassee are great and I wouldn’t trade them for the world. They have taught me that life is about fun and fulfillment.”
When it came to make a decision about where she wanted to go to college, Stuart knew choosing Florida State would take her far away from her family. She eventually narrowed down her choices to Oklahoma and FSU. The Seminoles have been to the regional finals in both of Stuart’s season at FSU but the Sooners are just two seasons removed from a National Championship. Combine that fact with the distance from her family and one might think that Stuart might have some regrets but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
“Everything that I have gone through, both positive and negative has made me a better person,” said Stuart. “If I had a chance to change anything, I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t trade the relationships I made here for anything in the world. I am so much stronger and open-minded due to my time here at Florida State.”
And Florida State softball is better off for having Brandi Stuart too.