As the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of high school spring sports, local seniors were faced with an abrupt ending to their high school careers. A group of these students were also athletes at the Texas Rangers MLB Youth Academy at Mercy Street Sports Complex, presented by Toyota. This Rangers Academy Senior Spotlight series seeks to highlight those athletes who have worked on their craft at the Academy as they move into the next chapter in their lives.
A senior season cut short due to COVID-19 meant missing the possibility of hitting a first home run, a chance to make the playoffs and daily practices with teammates.
And while Emily Cantu regretted all those things, she didn't feel that was her biggest loss.
"Most importantly, I missed out on having my senior night and playing in front of the people I love for my last home high school game," the Moisés E. Molina High School senior said.
Despite the disappointment, Cantu has chosen to focus on being grateful for the part of her senior season she did get to experience before it ended abruptly.
"I got to make amazing memories throughout the year with my coach and teammates that I wouldn't trade for anything," Cantu said. "Knowing that my teammates and I gave our all at the beginning of the season not knowing it was going to be cut short has been the reason I've stayed positive throughout the quarantine."
Cantu's love for the game brought her to the Texas Rangers MLB Youth Academy at Mercy Street Sports Complex last year. That decision also led to an unexpected reunion with a favorite coach.
"Immediately the staff there was so friendly, and I got reunited with my favorite coach!" Cantu said of seeing coach Sebastian Martinez again. "I hadn't seen him in such a long time, when I started going to a summer camp at a recreation center when I was 10 years old."
Emily wasn't the only Cantu who participated at the academy. Her older cousin, Natalia, was one of two recipients of the 2019 Rangers RBI Scholarship and competed on the Rangers Academy teams competing in the 2019 RBI Southwest Regionals and Jennie Finch Classic.
Academy director Juan Leonel Garciga, who also coaches the RBI regionals and Jennie Finch Classic teams, picked up on the similarities between the cousins.
"During my first interaction with Emily, I quickly recognized the last name, having coached her older cousin, and realized apart from the name, the talent was something they shared in common," Garciga remembered.
"Despite the intense heat that kept other players away from the summer workouts, she was a regular, willing to put in the work necessary to compete on her high school team that was loaded with talent. It was truly a shame they had their season cut short, because they were set up to accomplish something special."
Next up for Cantu is studying nursing at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas. With dreams of becoming a pediatrician, Cantu picked Midwestern State for its proximity to home and a hands-on nursing program.
"The goals I have for myself as I enter the new chapter in my life is to not say, 'I can't do it,' but instead work even harder to accomplish a difficult task and study hard every time until it comes to the day when I need to pass my nursing exam to be certified and get my nursing BSN," Cantu said.
Studying nursing isn't the only thing Cantu will be working hard on during her college career.
Cantu is also using the summer trying to improve her game as she formulates a strategy to keep her softball career alive by trying out at Midwestern State.
"First, I want to see if I can handle being a nursing major because the coursework becomes more difficult as you progress in the program," Cantu said. "If all goes well, I will try out and see how it goes and try to balance it out if I can."
Cantu's takeaway from her softball career thus far should also serve her well in college and life.
"The most important thing I've learned from playing softball is to not let the fear of losing keep you from finishing the game off strong," Cantu said.