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 of their lives.
Gabriela Quintanilla, Bishop Lynch High School
Gabriela Quintanilla and her Bishop Lynch teammates were playing in the San Marcos Tournament in San Marcos, Texas, on Thursday, March 12, when they learned that their season was on hold due to COVID-19.
The Friars had picked up one win in their four games that day. In their final contest, a 9-8 loss to Greenwood High School, Quintanilla went 2-for-2 with a double, a triple and 2 RBIs from the leadoff spot.
“Never could I have imagined that that one game was going to be the end of my high school softball season,” Quintanilla recalled.
“I know I have more games to look forward to, but for many of my teammates, that was it. No more softball. That’s a hard thing to deal with. Especially knowing that we were favored to win the State Championship for TAPPS D1-6A this year,” Quintanilla added.
Other senior-year traditions were lost along with the remainder of the softball season -- Senior Sunset, Senior Taco Truck, Senior Brunch, Senior Prom and graduation, to name a few.
But Quintanilla knows firsthand that those things don’t compare with the health and safety of her loved ones.
“COVID-19 changed a lot of things for my senior year. All the things I’ve worked so hard for was taken away so quickly,” Quintanilla said.
“To end so abruptly was tough, definitely not what we expected, but things could be worse. I’ve had a family member and a really good friend be diagnosed with the coronavirus. To see what they went through, I know that I am blessed and have a lot to look forward to. Softball means a lot in my life, but my family’s health and safety is much more important,” she added.
East Central University in Ada, Okla., is the next step in Quintanilla’s softball journey.
“Playing collegiate softball has always been a dream of mine and getting a scholarship to do so is definitely a plus,” Quintanilla said. “The most important thing was to help my parents. They have sacrificed so much for my brothers and I, so to help relieve some of that burden by receiving a scholarship is a blessing. Being able to play collegiate softball while getting my education paid for is more than I could have ever asked.”
Quintanilla credits softball with helping her grow both mentally and physically, while also forming lifelong friendships. Some of those experiences have happened on the field at the Rangers Youth Academy. The shortstop started coming to the academy in 2018, playing in the Rangers' RBI league and participating in camps and clinics.
“Quintanilla’s talent and abilities have certainly provided her with opportunities even beyond those available at the Youth Academy. Still, over the years she has attended our open workouts and participated in one season of Rangers RBI,” Rangers Youth Academy director Juan Leonel Garciga said.
For Quintanilla, the facility has been home to some great memories in the game.
“The academy gives me the sense of being able to be myself and have fun while working out,” Quintanilla said. “My most memorable moment was when a lot of the girls and I were doing outfield drills and I slipped and busted my butt. It was so funny and one moment no one will forget.”
Both Quintanilla’s love and talent for softball stood out to Garciga during her time at the Academy.
“Often times, programs are so focused on winning that the development and instruction is lost, and the risk of athletes burning out is elevated. Quintanilla was able to strike a nice balance and allow her natural gifts to be displayed on the softball field. As a five-tool player, there was never a question that she would play at the next level,” Garciga said.
Right now, Quintanilla is training in her backyard with a net and tee. Cones have been added to run drills her dad finds on the internet, and she’s also working with a personal strengthening coach twice a week.
East Central University has also provided a workout schedule she is following, but Quintanilla knows it’s not just her game she’ll be working on in college.
“My plans are to study nursing,” Quintanilla said. “I'd really like to be a labor and delivery nurse. To help deliver babies and get moms through such an amazing time safely is what I would love to do. To bring new lives into this world is something very special.”
COVID-19 ended Quintanilla’s senior year abruptly and has been a harsh reminder of how quickly things can change. But she knows that’s not the end of the story.
“I’ve learned to keep things in perspective, and no matter what, I am exactly where I am supposed to be and enjoying every minute of it,” Quintanilla said. “This time at home has allowed us to regroup, recharge and focus on family, which is most important.”