Daughter of former big leaguer to make her pitch in college
Left-hander Hudek to play for Louisiana community college on scholarship
HOUSTON -- Most girls who show interest in baseball are ultimately encouraged to play softball, but Sarah Hudek always knew that wasn't her true calling.
Hudek concluded at a very young age, when she was about 10 years old, that she was a baseball player. Turns out, that's only half the story. Not only is she a baseball player, but she's an exceptionally good one at that. In fact, she's so good that she recently earned a scholarship from Bossier Parish Community College, a junior college in Louisiana, where the 5-foot-10, left-handed pitcher will join the baseball team next school year.
It's the first time the school has signed a female to play on its baseball team, and Hudek is one of only a few females to play baseball at the collegiate level. Needless to say, the rarity of this has heaped quite a bit of attention on Hudek, and as much as she'd just like to blend in, she realizes what she's about to do is newsworthy.
"I haven't really wrapped my head around that part of it," Hudek said. "I'm getting more followers on Twitter, people are messaging me on Facebook, thanking me, saying, 'Good luck.' It's a really great feeling to be able to open the door to other girls pursuing this dream."
Hudek not only has the talent, but the bloodlines, too. The senior at Houston's George Ranch High School is the daughter of former Major League pitcher John Hudek, who pitched for the Astros, Mets and Reds during a big league career that spanned from 1994-99.
The elder Hudek said he saw something special in Sarah's abilities when she was still very young, but it wasn't until she was nearing high school that he knew she had a real chance to compete with boys at a higher level.
"She kept going and getting better and producing every year," John Hudek said. "Then I started to say, 'Man, she's got the opportunity to go farther.'"
Said Sarah: "Once I got to high school, I said, 'Wow, I actually have the potential to go to the next level.' I pushed myself even harder when I got to high school."
John and his wife, Tracy, checked with the school board to make sure Sarah would be able to try out for the boys baseball team, and once they got the green light, Sarah was on her way. Her coach, Greg Kobza, "didn't make it easy," John Hudek recalled. "But he doesn't make it easy on anyone. And she didn't want it easy. She just wants to be treated as one of the guys on the team. To see her out there, it's exciting."
It's also a bit unnerving, although Sarah, whose fastball velocity ranges from mid to upper 70s to low 80s, uses the extra attention as ammunition.
"I knew definitely I had to be on my 'A' game all the time,' she said. "You mess up once and they'd say, 'Oh, it's because I'm a girl.' They'd throw that excuse out there. I like the pressure on me, to push myself and be 100 percent every time."
Sarah excelled in her freshman year, but the true test was jumping to the varsity team as a sophomore. Once she aced that, there were few questions remaining regarding her future as a baseball player.
"She was right up there with the others," John Hudek said. "That's when I really started to see there is the opportunity."
Bossier Parish head coach Aaron Vorachek told the Shreveport Times, "This is not a gimmick and I could care less about media attention. I'm signing her to help us win ballgames."
Hudek, who has aspirations to play for a Division I program, is fine with that, too.
"That's what I want to be seen as -- just another baseball player that can help the team win a Junior College World Series," she said. "[Vorachek] sees me as a baseball player, and I respect that."
Still, there is some nerve-jangling, mostly in the case of the parents. Sending your kid off to college is hard enough. It's understandable that the Hudeks may have a few more anxieties as they send their daughter into an environment pretty much untapped, in terms of women playing college baseball.
Vorachek has been in close contact with the family, assuring Sarah's safety when the team travels and other road-trip logistics. The Hudeks also have family members who live near the school, which helps.
"The support will be there for her, and it's not far for us to go," John Hudek said. "Am I going to be a little nervous? Yeah, a little bit. Tracy will probably be a little more nervous than I am. But it's exciting."
Once the initial attention subsides, Sarah hopes that it'll be business as usual. It already is in the Hudek household; her dad rattles off a scouting report that doesn't sound much different than the experts might provide about a Major League pitcher.
"The way she is with her command, changing speeds, pitching in and out, that's what pitchers should do regardless," John Hudek said. "If you throw 95 [mph], if you throw 85, if you throw 80, you can do it. If you look at guys in the big leagues that don't throw hard, they do know how to pitch. They do move the ball. That's what I see her do, and that's when I saw there was a great opportunity for her to go play."
Clearly, he wasn't the only one.