April 23, 2004
By Elliott Finebloom
FSU Sports Information
Anything worth having is worth waiting for and worth working for. Just ask Florida State catcher Elisa Vasquez. After two years of sitting behind all-region catcher Kimmy Carter, Vasquez exploded onto the college softball scene in 2003 becoming the first catcher in Florida State softball history to be named an All-America. The California native came within a handful of RBIs of setting a single season record, which just happened to be held by Carter, and she did something Carter never did in becoming an All-American.
“I knew FSU had an established catcher when I committed but I just looked at the situation like I would come and do my best to earn playing time,” said Vasquez. “It is different because I wasn’t used to not starting. In high school I was a big fish in a small pond. I get to FSU and now I’m the small fish in a big pond. It took a little getting used to. I had to adjust to the situation. It made me work harder and that was a positive of the situation.”
Vasquez may have been a small fish in the proverbial big pond but just because she didn’t start behind the plate right away, that didn’t mean she didn’t play. Vasquez started 25 games and played in 32 her rookie year. The next season, still playing behind Carter, she started 54 games as Florida State advanced to the World Series. While playing in Oklahoma City was a dream come true for Elisa it just wasn’t the same because she wasn’t behind the plate.
“That was rough but at least I got to hit so it wasn’t like I didn’t get a chance to contribute. Hopefully we will get back this year because I really want to catch in the World Series,” said Vasquez. “There are always frustrating times because you want to be playing. You just want the chance to get in there. Those were definitely frustrating times for me.”
Last season Carter had graduated and Vasquez was “the” catcher. She was working in a battery with then-sophomore Casey Hunter and she had big shoes to fill. Carter was coming off the first ever 50 RBI season in program history and Vasquez was no longer catching Jessica van der Linden. She was handling a new pitcher and in a sense handling the whole team and managing the game as the No. 1 catcher on a team that just finished in the semi-finals of the 2002 College World Series.
“That first season as a starter I just wanted to get my job done,” recalls Vasquez. “That meant doing a lot of different things and balancing all of that was the hardest part.”
Vasquez seemed to have no problem “balancing” all of those responsibilities or getting the job done. As a junior she hit .346, drove in 46 runs, slugged .523 and fielded an amazing .992. She helped Casey Hunter go from 4-0 with a 2.10 ERA as a freshman to 27-6 with a 0.67 ERA as a sophomore. She flourished when the pressure was the greatest and maybe even surprised herself a little bit when she was named a third team All-America, the first catcher at Florida State to ever earn such an honor.
“I knew I was capable of that but I was definitely surprised how quickly it came since that was my first year as a starter,” said Elisa. “I thought I was having a pretty good season last year but I never realized it was worthy of All-America honors. I worked hard to get there, which made my overall game better. Not just behind the plate but at the plate too. When I heard I got All-American I was very excited. It took me back.”
One of the things that surprised Elisa more than the accolades she received, which not only included NFCA All-America honors but Easton first team All-American honors, All-ACC honors and first team all-region honors, was the hard work it took to get there. What came so easy to her all of her life now required a lot of work if she wanted to reach the goals she set for herself.
“Some people are more gifted and they don’t have to work as hard but everyone who becomes an All-American works harder that they ever thought they could,” said Vasquez. “No matter who you are, you have to put for the extra effort to get that edge. The better you want to be, the harder you have to work.
“The effort must be there. I had to work twice as hard as I thought I would need to get where I am. Nothing is handed to you. You have to earn it and it means working harder that you ever thought you would have to.”
That was just one of the lessons Vasquez learned playing behind Carter. She also learned that you have to be patient but always be prepared. In her opinion catcher is the most demanding position on the field and you have to be fully prepared because you never know when you’ll be called upon.
“I learned to be patient and when your turn comes be prepared,” Vasquez recalls. “Always work hard because you never know when your opportunity will come and you have to be prepared for it. I think catcher is the most important position and when you are behind the plate, everyone is looking at you. You better be ready because the whole time is relying on you.”
Vasquez learned her lessons well and now she is passing those lessons on to sophomore BillieAnne Gay and freshman Lena Sifen. When it comes to big time college sports it isn’t rare to see egos stop upper classmen from helping younger players but that has never been the case for Elisa. This is a role she has wanted to fill for a long time.
“When I was in travel ball there was an older player who went on to play at Fresno. I was a year or two behind her and she always treated me so well. She was encouraging and there was never any jealousy. The fact that I knew she was supporting me made me more comfortable and made me want to work harder,” Elisa remembers. “We developed a really strong bond and that had a big influence on me.
“I always knew that if I worked with younger catchers I would be the same way. I am happy when Billie and Lena have success. I want them to throw out every runner and do better than I do because this is my last year and I want them both to have success. I want them to be better than me because that will help the team win.”
Elisa’s unselfish attitude isn’t just lip service. This year she and BillieAnne split starts behind the plate and it doesn’t bother Elisa at all. She has no problem sharing her plate with the sophomore.
“Between catching and being the designated player I get to play every game so that is fine with me and Billie is a good catcher and she needs to be in there too besides I am getting old. It is good for me because my body needs the break,” said Elisa with a chuckle.
Part of the reason Vasquez likes being a mentor to BillieAnne is because of her love for the position of catcher. It is unlike any other on the diamond and it holds a special place in her heart.
“You are the captain of the ship on the field. You direct the flow of the game. You are like the director of the movie,” said the film buff. “The field players are the actors and the pitcher is the star. Coach Graf is the producer and the catcher is behind the scenes.
“When you play catcher you are involved in the action on every pitch. There is no waiting like there is in the field. Also no position has more control over a game than catcher.”
From her spot behind the plate Vasquez not only controls the game, she is a coach on the field. The position requires that Elisa be part comedian, part psychiatrist and part general. It also means she has to take care of her pitcher.
“Some people think managing the game is the biggest role a catcher plays but I think it is working to take care of your pitcher,” said Vasquez. “That can really mean something in the game. When an ump isn’t giving us the calls I have to work especially hard to get Casey strikes. Walks can change a game and they can be a result of a catcher not doing everything possible to get strikes called.”
Casey and Elisa have developed a close relationship and the catcher is very protective of her pitcher. Casey’s success excites Elisa more than her own triumphs.
“The most exciting part of the game for me is when Casey strikes a batter out,” said Vasquez. “I think we have a good pitcher/catcher relationship. I always try to go out and make her laugh. I try to pick up on when she is tired and I go out to the mound to give her a break. We have a lot of trust in one another. I see it as my job to help her be successful.”
While Elisa has been taking care of Casey the expectations that came with being an All-American wore on her at the beginning of the season. After breaking through as a junior, there was a lot more expected of Elisa as a senior. Not just by the people around her but she raised her expectations of herself as well.
“I did feel a lot of pressure at the beginning of the year. I wanted to do better that my All-American year and that was hard,” said Vasquez. “I don’t feel it as much now. Sometimes you put so much pressure on yourself you aren’t successful. I am trying to calm down more and have some fun. I wasn’t having fun at the start of the season.
“I think I just set my goals too high coming into this year. My expectations of myself weren’t nearly as high last year as they were coming into this season.”
Vasquez’s numbers are on the rise as of late but she still isn’t hitting at the pace she was in 2003. As a senior you’d think that it would get her down after such an impressive junior campaign but it hasn’t. Sitting for two years not only taught Elisa to be patient but she gained a lot of perspective during that time.
“It was hard at the start of the season but then I put it in perspective. This is a team and we are winning. Other people are stepping up and there should be less pressure on me because of the success of everyone else. As long as we are winning I am not going to get caught up in my numbers. I just want to find a way to help us be successful any way I can.”
For Elisa being the number one catcher on the No. 2 team in the country is all she could have ever wished for as a senior. Well maybe not all she could have wished for.
“Starting behind the plate at the World Series would be one of the greatest moments for me. I loved playing on that field and I got that chance but never as a catcher. I hope I can get that chance in my final year here,” said Vasquez.
For that to happen, Vasquez knows there can be no slip-ups like last season when FSU entered the NCAA Tournament on a 27-game winning streak and then proceeded to be eliminated in just two games. This year’s team maybe ranked second but Vasquez knows that is no guarantee of postseason success.
“Even though we are ranked high, we need to keep the same intensity all the way through the end of the season no matter who we face,” said Vasquez. “Everyone we play is good and capable of beating us. We need to maintain our focus and intensity.”
If she and her teammates are able to maintain the focus that got them this far, Elisa’s dream of finishing her career by setting up behind the plate at Don E. Porter Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City may just come true.