By Melissa Segura
May 11, 2004
New York, NY- She’s going to be a bit a slow, the doctors said as they laid all four pounds and 14 inches of Jessica van der Linden into an incubator for premature babies. Jessica van der Linden fires a 62-mile-per-hour fastball for her 14th strikeout of the day. She’s going to take a while to develop her coordination, they warned. Jessica van der Linden strokes an RBI single to give Florida State a victory over ACC rival North Carolina. She’s going to take a little more time. Jessica van der Linden completes her ninth career no-hitter to clinch the conference title.
At home in Cerritos, Calif., they call van der Linden the miracle. At Florida State she’s the softball team’s heart. “She plays with an awful lot of it,” says Seminoles coach JoAnne Graf. Through last weekend van der Linden, a senior, had led Florida State to a 52-5 record, the Seminoles’ 11th regular-season ACC championship and the highest national ranking (No. 2) in school history. She’s a main reason why Florida State has a chance to win its first Women’s College World Series title.
In Oklahoma City in late May, van der Linden will ball up her fist, thump her chest twice and point to a teammate-the signal she uses when in centerfield to mean You’ve gotta have heart. Dig deep. If she’s not college softball’s best player, she’s surely its most versatile. As a pitcher she has a 23-4 record and an 0.52 ERA; in center she has a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage; at the plate she leads the Seminoles in batting, with a .371 average, and has 18 game-winning RBIs. “She can do everything very well,” says Graf. “When I recruited her, I was looking at her more as a pitcher, but the nice thing was, we got the whole package.”
It took plenty of practice to get there. With the help of her father, Case-who fastened a tarp to the house to catch wayward balls-young Jessica perfected her fastball. Soon she was working on screwballs and dropballs, knucklers and changeups. At 15 Jessica joined the Orange County Batbusters, one of the nation’s premier traveling teams, and began attra
also attracted the attention of the Puerto Rican national team; Jessica represented her mother Martha’s homeland at the 2002 world championships and the 2003 Pan American Games.
Though van der Linden has been drafted into the newly formed National Pro Fastpitch league, she’s vowed to walk away from the game after the season. “I knew I would stop playing softball when college was over,” says van der Linden, who already has her bachelor’s degree in child development. “I played ball to get to college.”
But the sport that has taken her on trips to Venezuela and Canada and throughout the U.S. has one last parting gift. After an awards ceremony for Florida State athletes in 2001, van der Linden met Seminoles linebacker Michael Boulware, who was slurping noodles from a pan. It was love between bites. On July 3 Boulware, a 2004 draft pick of the Seattle Seahawks, and van der Linden will wed. After all, you’ve gotta have heart-so that when the right time comes you can give it away.