As the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancelation 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.
For the past 11 years, Erin Ledesma has been playing softball. For the past three plus years, she's been doing so at the Texas Rangers MLB Youth Academy.
A shortstop and outfielder, Ledesma has been part of the 2018 and '19 Rangers Academy teams in the Jennie Finch Classic as part of All-Star Weekend festivities.
Ledesma also made the 2018 and '19 Rangers Academy RBI All-Star teams that competed in the RBI Southwest Regionals in Austin. The '19 tournament stands out to Ledesma as a highlight of her time with the Rangers Academy.
After securing their place in Academy history with the program's first softball win, an 8-3 victory over RBI Austin, the squad faced NOLA RBI with a chance to play in the championship game on the line.
"That game was the best game we've played as a team," Ledesma said. "The crowd was screaming like crazy because we had such a big crowd supporting us."
In the final frame, NOLA loaded the bases with one out while trailing by a run, but Rangers Academy starter Amandalynn Peterson (2020, MacArthur High School) pitched out of the jam and the Rangers Academy RBI team held on for a 5-4 victory.
"I remember all the diving catches everyone made, and I made the last play to end the game for us to win to be able to play in the championship game which was the best part and the biggest relief. It was a great moment to make history for the Academy with my teammates which are more like my sisters," Ledesma said.
The quest to advance to the RBI World Series ended with a loss to the eventual RBI World Series winning Houston Astros in the championship game of the Southwest Regionals. But Academy director Juan Leonel Garciga, who coached the softball squad, recalled how those games impacted his shortstop.
"We are going to miss Erin. She was a tremendous player and leader not just based on how she played the game, but her overall makeup and demeanor," Garciga said. "Even during the championship run at regionals, she wasn't having her best tournament offensively, but she kept a positive attitude and lived up to her gold glove defensive reputation."
At one point, Garciga noticed Ledesma's frustration with her own offensive output and reassured her that she would still be in the lineup even if she went 0-for-12, because he trusted her as much as any player he'd coached.
"She understood they had a chance to do something special, and I think she came out of that tournament a better player, realizing that she didn't have to do it all for the team to have success. She learned to lean on her teammates and trust them," Garciga said.
Ledesma also represented the Academy at the 2019 Breakthrough Series and '18 Elite Development Invitational. But her path to collegiate softball ran through the Rangers when she represented the Academy in a '19 showcase hosted at the NOLA Academy.
There, she was discovered by a coach from Southern University and A&M College in the SWAC Conference.
It wasn't long before Ledesma made up her mind about her college destination by visiting the campus in Baton Rouge, La.
"When I went on my visit, it felt right. The head coach had a vision for the softball program at Southern to be successful which is something I would like to be a part of," Ledesma said.
Throughout the 11 years Ledesma has spent playing softball, she's always wanted to take her game to the next level.
"I've worked very hard to get where I am today and playing softball in college was always my end goal to help pay for my college tuition and take that burden off my parents," Ledesma said.
Ledesma plans to major in biology and is considering going to medical school to become a sports medicine physician.
"I like to push myself to my limits, so one goal I have for myself in college is to graduate with a 4.0 GPA. I also want to push myself physically, and I want to be the best athlete I can be and work hard to get a starting position as a freshman," Ledesma said.
In the meantime, Ledesma is continuing to work out every day -- taking swings and fielding ground balls. She'll also take the field at the Academy this summer to participate in the Texas Rangers RBI League.
It's fitting that Ledesma's summer would be spent playing on the Academy fields, as the Irma Lerma Rangel Young Women's Leadership School graduate played high school softball for Sunset High School, which was scheduled to play its 2020 home games at the facility before COVID-19 forced the season's early cancelation.
"The most important thing I've learned from playing softball is to never give up," Ledesma said. "I learned that the game can change by a swing of a bat even when we are down by seven runs. No matter how bad you are losing or how hard a pitcher is throwing, you can never give up on yourself or your team. That lesson is important to apply to the real world because you should never give up during any situation."