By Elliott Finebloom
FSU Sports Information
April 7, 2004
Talahassee, FL –
Beth Wade grew up just over 60 miles away from Tallahassee in Colquitt, GA and she was always a Seminole fan. Despite the short trip down US-27 to get to FSU’s campus it is hard to imagine any player had a longer journey to get where she is today than Beth.
The Seminole senior has gone from never playing fastpitch softball before coming to Florida State to putting up numbers that will warrant All-ACC and all-region consideration. She has gone from a .223 lifetime hitter to hitting over .300 and with her eight home runs she is threatening to break one of the longest standing records in Seminole softball history.
“I never thought I would be close to a single season home run record. It is kind of crazy,” said Wade.
What is also “kind of crazy” is the fact that Wade never played fastpitch softball before enrolling at Florida State in 2000. She played baseball in high school in hopes of moving on to fastpitch softball at a junior college and that’s what she was set to do before coming to Tallahassee for JoAnne Graf’s summer softball camp.
“I was set on going to junior college and I came to camp here,” said Wade. “I talked to coach (JoAnne) Graf and Louie (Berndt) and they said I could walk on. My mom got me all this scholarship information and encouraged me to at least apply for them. I didn’t think there was a point but I did it.”
Despite the offer to walk on at FSU, a dream come true for the aspiring first baseman, Wade had already settled on the junior college route even when an academic scholarship became available that would have allowed her to pursue her dream of playing softball at Florida State.
“I ended up getting an academic scholarship and canceling it because I just thought I was going to go to juco,” remembers Wade. “Coach Graf said I could come to FSU and not have to try out so I had to go back and try to get my scholarship reinstated because otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to come here from a financial standpoint.
“I had some interest from Georgia State and some division II schools. I could have walked on at Georgia too but I always wanted to come to FSU. It is an hour from my house and was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”
So in 2000 Wade came to FSU to play fastpitch softball for the first time in her life and it wasn’t with a junior college team or a small conference school. She was playing for a five-time Women’s College World Series participant and one of the great programs in the country.
Wade took a redshirt the first year as she learned the game and then played sparingly as a redshirt freshman behind all-south region selection Robin Gauger at first. Despite only 16 at bats Wade hit .312 in 2001 and played on a team that was an out away from the World Series.
In 2002 Beth finally got the call to start at first base for the Seminoles. Wade started 57 games that season including all four for the Tribe at the College World Series. She posted a solid .976 fielding percentage at first base but hit just .205 with 50 strikeouts.
Last year Wade continued to work hard to turn things around at the plate but through 12 games she was hitting just .095 and through 23 games her average was sitting at .133.
“I can’t really single out a game or an at bat when I really felt I hit bottom. I know I was the most frustrated at the beginning of the season last year. Things just kept building up. I just told myself that I needed a restart. I just made out like I was starting the season over,” Beth recalls. “That was about the end of February and the beginning of March. Eve (Gaw) told me I was a good hitter and this was just all in my head.
“The more frustrated you get the more you start to think about things when you step into the box. You want to be focusing on just one or two things not 20. You have to accept that hitting is very frustrating. It is one of the toughest things to do in sports. That is a part of the game a lot of people don’t understand.”
Another thing Wade didn’t consider was that she was still less than 80 games into her softball-playing career. In many cases she was playing with and against players that had been playing softball since they could walk.
“When I was struggling last year Eve (Gaw) kept telling me that I have really only been playing this game for two years. I was playing against players that have played softball their whole lives,” said Wade. “There are similarities between baseball and fast pitch softball but there are differences as well and I was still learning.”
Over the second half of the 2003 season Wade hit .283 and she carried that success into the summer where she once again dedicated herself to working on hitting. She was entrenched at first base and her defense was stellar as her fielding percentage increased for the third straight year but coming into her senior season she knew she was going to need to contribute more at the plate.
“I knew with the graduation of Brandi (Stuart) I was going to be counted on to pick up some of the slack we were missing offensively. Obviously you can’t replace Brandi but I wanted to help the team more at the plate. The way I preformed in the past wasn’t going to cut it this year,” said Wade. “I played ball all last summer with Casey’s (Hunter) team in Illinois and I worked really hard on hitting.
“Playing in the summer for fun helped too. There were fewer pressures and I hit really well. I tried to bring that into this season with me. I tried to remember to play for fun and without all the pressure. When you get up tight it is hard to be successful.”
Wade’s more carefree attitude at the plate and hard work paid off. The senior entered the week hitting a career high .302 and she is setting new personal bests almost every time she steps out. Her eight home runs are three away from breaking a record that has stood since 1987 and she has already doubled the number of triples and home runs she hit in her career in just 44 games this season. She has already established new season highs for RBIs, hits, doubles, triples, home runs, runs scored and her fielding percentage is also up 10 points from the career high she set in 2003.
“It is very frustrating when you are not performing at the plate. It spills over into everything else,” said Wade. “It isn’t the only important part of the game but it is a big part of it. If you aren’t succeeding at the plate, it can lead to problems in other areas like defense. I tried to work on my fundamentals this off-season and my mental approach.”
Coming into 2004, Wade’s batting average exceeded .300 just once in her career and that was after going 1-for-3 at Georgia Southern to open the 2003 season. This year Wade’s average has dipped below .300 just twice in 44 games. Ten games into the year she was hitting .375, which Wade believes is one of the reasons 2004 has been such a success for her at the plate.
“The biggest difference was starting off the right way. I felt I got off to bad starts the last two seasons and I had to fight my way out of a hole. This year I got off to a good start and now I am just trying to maintain that,” said Wade. “It is a whole different perspective when you don’t feel like you are trying to climb out of a hole.
“For me when you aren’t hitting well you have 20 or 30 things going through your head while you are trying to hit a golf ball coming at you 60 miles per hour with a spit second to decide whether to swing or not. When you are hitting well you only have a couple things running through your head and the ball looks like a beach ball and you are picking it up so well as it leaves the pitcher’s hand.”
With her success at the plate, Wade has climbed up in the batting order. She started the season going between seven and eight in the line-up and she has now ascended all the way to fifth where she has now batted for 18 games. While it does require a little bit of an adjustment, that’s fine with Wade.
“Hitting is constantly changing and adjusting. Even pitch-by-pitch you make changes,” said Wade. “The best hitters know how to make adjustments from pitch to pitch and that is how you become successful in this game.
“I don’t think that matters to me. It doesn’t matter where you hit in this line-up because the next person is going to produce. It doesn’t even matter where I hit.”
One of the big reasons it doesn’t matter to Wade where she hits is because she just wants to contribute. For a person that is a true student of the game and loves softball as much as anyone on the diamond, you’d think that Wade would revel in her personal success. But if you think that is the case you just don’t know Beth Wade.
“Contributing to our success is the biggest thing for me. It is not about being the best hitter on the team or having the best batting average. It is about helping the team win. It is about coming through and picking up a crucial hit to drive in a run,” said Wade. “It feels really good to do my part but I think we have all contributed to the offensive success this year.”
While Beth may down play her role in the offensive success of the 2004 squad, there is no denying she has established herself as the top long ball threat on a team that is five home runs away from setting a new single season record. The career .223 hitter came into 2004 with four career homers. She equaled that total in an eight-day span during the first part of March. So what is the difference?
“I don’t even think about home runs. I am not a home run hitter. I just go up and try to hit the ball hard,” said Wade. “I actually did make a change that I think has contributed to the home runs this year. I am swinging at pitches higher in the zone. When I first switched from baseball to fastpitch softball I obviously had never seen a rise ball. I was swinging at it every time. I made the adjustment to not swing at anything above the belt. I wasn’t going to swing at anything high even if it was right there. High pitches are easier to drive so I tried to make the adjustment to swinging at that type of pitch. I may be striking out on a few more rise balls but several of the homers have come on pitches up in the zone.”
Wade has had eight chances to experience the joy of knocking a ball out of the park but when you ask her about it once again she deflects the attention to her team.
“It feels good when you swing and you hit it well,” said Wade with a smile. “Those are the ones when you get a hold of them and hit it in the right spot you don’t even feel it hit the bat. It especially feels good in a close game and you know your team needed that.”
Through all her ups and downs the FSU coaching staff has stuck with Wade for three years and that is one of the things that makes her success this season so much sweeter.
“Coach Graf and the staff have always been supportive of me even in the hard times. To be able to contribute offensively this year feels good,” said Wade. “Coach Graf has been awesome in sticking with me.”
Now that she is having so much success it is a little easier for Wade to look back and reflect on the things that conspired to bring her to where she is today. When asked about her path to starting at one of the nation’s premiere softball schools, Wade knows there were two key things in her life that got her where she is today. The first was growing up playing baseball.
“If I had never played baseball I would never of made it to where I am today. The adjustment from slow pitch to a top-level division I softball team like this would never of happened,” said Wade. “I wouldn’t even be able to see the ball. At this level in college the ball is quicker but it is bigger and it doesn’t break as much. In baseball I faced three or four pitchers that threw in the low 90’s and that is equivalent to what you see in college softball from almost every pitcher.
“If I hadn’t grown up playing baseball I don’t know I would have been taught a lot of the fundamentals I learned. I think people on the east coast in softball circles wouldn’t have coached girls like I was coached playing baseball with boys. I learned things at a younger age than a lot of the girls playing softball.”
Wade’s journey would have been derailed long ago if it weren’t for her parents allowing her to play baseball with boys from a young age and their continuing support all along the way.
“My mom wasn’t on board when I wanted to play baseball as a kid but she got over that and got behind me,” recalls Wade. “My parents have always been in full support of me. That isn’t tied to my performance on the field. They just want me to be happy. It is a huge accomplishment for me to have made it as far as I had and it bothered me when I was struggling on the field but it didn’t matter to them. They were proud no matter how I preformed.”
One of the nice things about growing up about 60 miles from Tallahassee is that the Wade’s are a fixture at Seminole home games. But for a young woman trying to establish herself independently at college, has it been hard for Beth having her parents at every home game and still very involved in her life?
“It is great. I never thought that when I went to college to play ball my parents would be at every game but they have always supported me. It has been great to be able to look up into the crowd and see them there,” said Wade. “They make every home game and most of the away games. They have been tremendous and have supported me through everything.”
With her game finally at the level that she knew she was capable of, Wade’s senior season is going just as planned but she knows how quickly things can turn. Last year the Seminoles had won 27 games in a row before being eliminated in two games at regionals. That is something Wade has not forgotten.
“It (senior year) has been a great year so far. Hopefully we won’t let up and will keep working hard. We still have a lot of things ahead of us,” said Wade.
“Last year was a heart breaker. I thought we had a better team last year than the one that went to the World Series in 2002. It isn’t just about having a great team. There is a lot of luck involved. You have to get breaks. In 2001, that team was a great team and it just missed it. Last year we had a couple bad days at the wrong time and we were sitting at home at the end of May.”
Beth truly believes things will be different this year and she is going to do whatever it takes to assure there is no letdown on the part of this year’s club. She sees more potential on this team than any she has been involved with.
“We had success early in the season but we have to focus on not letting down now. Rankings are great but that doesn’t matter. All that matters is getting into regionals and playing well at that point. If you don’t play well then, you will be sitting at home. That is what matters,” said Wade. “The seniors were on the World Series team and we remember what it took to get there. We have to impress on everybody that you need to stay focused the whole year and not rest on our accomplishments from earlier in the season.
“We don’t have any weak spots through the line-up from 1 to 9 on this team. Everyone on this team is capable of getting the job done. If you need a big hit in the bottom of the seventh, there is nobody up and down this line-up that isn’t capable of getting that hit. That is the biggest difference with this team. We have been successful in the past but this is no doubt the best team I have played on. I have played with some great players like Brandi (Stuart), Jen (White-Stokes), Serita (Brooks), Natalie (Bennett). A lot of good players have come through here but as a team this is the best one I have ever played on.”
A trip to a second World Series would be a pretty amazing finish to Beth’s career. From high school baseball to starting in two World Series would make this Colquitt native’s journey just about complete.
“It was crazy that I ended up where I am today,” said Beth with a smile. “I always wanted to play ball here. Ever since eighth grade I wanted to play softball at FSU and at that point I had never even played fastpitch. I kind of just laughed about it when I would write that in a paper for school or something. I still sometimes don’t believe I made it here.”
The greatest journeys always begin with one small step. In Beth’s case that first step was a 60-mile drive down US-27.