May 3, 2002
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Some people participate in college athletics to win National Championships and conference titles. Others play for individual reasons like All-American honors or personal records. While senior Jackie Hirschfeld (Tampa, FL) may have played for those reasons when she came to Florida State four years ago, she doesn’t play for those reasons any more.
The third baseman came to Tallahassee after a stellar high school career. Hirschfeld was a second team All-State selection and first team All-County and All-Conference team member at Tampa Catholic High School. Despite the accolades, things hadn’t gone totally as planned when it came to on the field matters. Hirschfeld had started just three games in her first three seasons and she had a difficult time reconciling her goals with her position as a role player.
Hirschfeld knew coming in that she wouldn’t be playing much as a freshman. She had a senior starter ahead of her at third base and at a program as successful as Florida State, starting right away is rare. It wasn’t until the end of her sophomore season that she started to see that her softball career might not be heading in the direction she had hoped.
“The toughest time for me was probably between my sophomore and junior years,” recalls Hirschfeld. “Coming in as a freshman, I knew I was playing behind a senior and that I was going to have to learn the ropes. Sophomore year I got my shot but we switched assistant coaches and there were some changes and things just didn’t go my way. That was when I really took a hard look at what my future was on this team.”
As a sophomore, Hirschfeld made just three starts and got just 26 at bats. She questioned whether she should invest the time and effort it took to play college athletics. It wasn’t until January 19, 2001 that things changed for her.
About a year and a half ago, Hirschfeld’s mother, Marilyn, suffered a stroke. It seemed that her decision to quit softball had become a lot easier. She considered leaving the team and school to go back to Tampa and help her family care for her mom but her mother had other ideas.
“I went through a lot with my mom’s stroke last year and I when she got sick I eventually realized that life could be so much worse than not starting or not playing,” said Hirschfeld. “At that point I decided to stick with softball for myself and for my family. My mom always wanted me to play and when she got sick, that didn’t change. I thought about leaving school and helping my brother and dad take care of her but she wanted me to stay in school and stick with softball and I did.
Jackie’s mother urged her to stay in school and stick with softball despite her health problems.
“I stayed because I knew that it meant a lot to her. In a lot of ways I was doing it for my mom but I found that coming to the park was a way for me to clear my head and deal with what was happening.”
Her mother knew how much softball meant to her daughter and insisted she stick with it. Marilyn Hirschfeld was Jackie’s biggest fan and she wasn’t going to let her health problems put an end to her daughter’s dream even if Jackie didn’t realize it was the right thing to do.
“It was therapeutic to come out to the park and when I had my doubts about continuing to play I just made it through knowing it was something that my mom wanted for me,” Hirschfeld said. “She knew how much I loved the game and even though it has been hard for me, I just don’t quit on things. I don’t ever give up. I always finish whatever I start and doing it for her made it all that more important.”
Hirschfeld feels while she continued to persevere through the tough times for her mom, it was the tenacity she got from her dad that carried her through. She just doesn’t quit on things and she believes that aspect of her personality comes from her father.
” I definitely think I got that from my dad,” said Hirschfeld. “He is a big part of my life and has been a role model for me. My brothers have had it hard in life but my family and my dad have made sure things were a lot easier for me. They have given me everything to help me succeed at whatever I do but he always taught me to finish what I start.
“My dad always told me ‘you pay now and you play later’ and I have always remembered that. He taught me to work hard and good things will happen.”
In many ways her father was right. While Hirschfeld’s role on the field hasn’t changed, she has gotten so much out of her four-year experience just by sticking with things and making it through the tough times.
“I am proud of what I have accomplished,” said Hirschfeld. “I leave here with no doubts and no regrets. I will never ask myself what would of happened or what could of happened when it comes to my time here. I saw it through and will never have any doubts about my four years. I leave here believing that I am capable of accomplishing anything.
“On top of making myself proud, I made my mom proud too,” said Hirschfeld. “She knows how much pride it has given me to be able to say that I never quit no matter how tough things seemed. She knew it would make me a stronger person and that I would take pride in that. We’ve both been through hard times but this has been a good experience for me.”
Hirschfeld is now trying to pass on that same lesson to her teammates. To many members of the 2002 Seminole softball team, she has become a role model because of what she has been through. While many players lead because they are starters or have great stats, Hirschfeld is a leader because she never gave up.
She is now trying to pass along what she has learned to her younger teammates.
“Jackie (Hirschfeld) has been a role model for me,” said fellow senior Becky Brock. “She was playing even less than I was yet she still had a great attitude everyday and practiced hard. I looked up to her for that. She always had a great outlook.”
Hirschfeld also wants the younger players on the team to learn from what she has experienced.
“That was so nice of Becky to say,” said Hirschfeld with a smile. “She and I went through a lot of adversity together through our four years here. We both became stronger together with each other’s help and I want to show the younger players how your teammates can be so important in your life. I want them to know that the more you stick to things and learn to make it through the hard times the better off you are at the end. I hope they look at me and see that I never gave up and that I am a much stronger person because of that. I hope they learn that when you can look in the mirror and be proud of yourself and what you have accomplished the better of you will be.
“The world is tough at times and whether it is on the softball field, in the job market or with your family’s health, you are going to go through adversity and are going to have to find some way to deal with it. That’s life and you have to face up to it and deal with it.”
Hirschfeld has learned that there is so much more to softball than starts and playing time. It is about being there for your teammates and sharing in the good and the bad times. It was a lesson she learned because when things were at their bleakest, she never quit.
“A lot of times people don’t look at anything you do away from the field and only focus on your stats,” said Hirschfeld. “Being part of a team means more than that. It is about each other and what we have on and off of the field. My teammates realize that what you do away from the game is sometimes more important than anything you could ever do during a game and this is a special group because of that.
“Take Brandi (Stuart) for example. She is an All-American caliber player but she is so much more than that. She is a great person who is more concerned about this team than her stats or accomplishments. She is a greater person off the field than she is on it and that is saying a lot because she is an amazing player.”
Hirschfeld has learned just how powerful being a part of team could be when her mom was sick. Her teammate Becky Brock had been through a similar experience when her father became ill and she relied on Brock for support. Hirschfeld was then able to turn around and lend the same support to fellow senior Monique Marier when her mother had a near fatal accident just over a month ago.
“I definitely know what Mo is going through because I have been there,” she said. “It is the hardest thing in the world. It is so difficult to see the person that brought you into this world lying in a bed helpless. Knowing that there is nothing you can do to help them is the hardest part. You just have to find the strength to believe that they are going to make it through and that is what I tried to tell her. You have to keep your head up high and remain strong.
“Becky (Brock) went through a similar experience with her dad before my mom had her health problems and I saw how strong she was I learned from her. What I learned from Becky and in turn what Mo learned from me illustrates what it means to be a part of a team. It is so much more than how hard you can hit a ball or how far you can throw. If my only reason for being on this team were to accumulate stats, I wouldn’t still be here.”
So when Hirschfeld puts on her Florida State uniform for the last time in a few weeks, she will leave FSU a stronger person than when she stepped foot in Tallahassee four years ago. She will also leave with a team full of friends she may never of had if she walked away.
It was always a dream of Jackie’s to play for Florida State and she is thankful she got that opportunity.
“After some years have passed, not a lot of people will remember what happened on the field so the lasting relationships are the best part of being on this team,” said Hirschfeld. “Those are the things that will stand the test of time.
“We are out here doing what we love. We all come out here everyday and go through the same thing so we all can relate to one another. It is comforting to come out to the field and look at my teammates and know that everything that we have gone through, we have gone through together. When you come out here, you know that everyone is there for one another.”
With a little guidance from her parents, not only has she become a better person who has cemented life-long friendships but she has also seen her dreams come true.
“My dream growing up as a kid was to be a Seminole and that was all I wanted and that dream came true,” remembers Hirschfeld. “I get to come out everyday and practice and play at a beautiful facility; I have good friends around me and that is a lot more than a lot of other people have. I really don’t think I could ask for anything else.”