March 27 – Departure day
…to Italy for spring training. How often can you say you took a roadtrip to Italy? Pretty cool if ya ask me. It’s weird to have Italy only 5 hours away from where I’m living. Now, it’s not one of the bigger fancier cities like Florence or Rome or Venice, but still, Italy is Italy right? We left Wiener Neustadt at about 12 and about 30 minutes into the drive it started pouring. Reminded me of home a little bit. My dad looked up the latitudes of Wr. Neustadt and Duvall before I left and there’s less than degree of a difference. Parts of the drive reminded me of the drive from home to Ellensburg. Trees, snowy mountains, and construction with shifting lanes. We even went by a lake (Wörther See). If you have made that drive from the West side to the burg even half as many times as I have, you know exactly what I’m talking about. We drove with the land; in and around the hills. There were a ton of tunnels. Some over a mile long and others really short.
We made a pitstop about halfway through. You had to pay 50 cents to use the restroom, which I didn’t bring with me because I had no idea that was a thing. There was a bar that moved when you put the money in. I saw it and thought “oh I can just step over this, no problem!”, looked up and saw a camera. Hmmm maybe I shouldn’t do that. Somebody kindly gave me some coins so I didn’t have to step over. Problem solved. A few hours later we arrived at the hotel, Alberto Furlan, in Ronchi die Legionari around 5, got our rooms, and then we were told to come down 20 minutes later to go somewhere. Where? Couldn’t tell ya. I’m just along for the ride here. We ended up at Julia Marina which was just like a rocky beach and of course I had to go touch the water because 1) to see how cold it was, not that cold compared to the good ole PNW water and 2) to say I touched the Adriatic Sea. From there, you could see Italy, Slovenia, and Croatia in the distance. Maybe because I miss home, but somehow I find a way to relate all these things to the PNW. I had Birch Bay on the brain at the Marina. After the short getaway, dinner was at the hotel restaurant. I had no idea what was coming but we got two dishes. One was a pasta dish, of course in Italy, and the other was chicken and potatoes. Almost every meal had some sort of pasta with it. Then the dessert was….well I don’t really know. Some sort of cake with vanilla pudding, chocolate fudge, and a little bit of whipped cream. It was good!
Spring Camp day 1
Almost 11 months later, I got the chance to lace up the cleats again and feel the dirt under my feet. Although they were a little sore by the end of the day, nothin’ beats the feeling of being on the field and the sound of metal spikes on concrete. The weather was very similar to Washington at the time, so I was pretty used to it but there are others who are cold in temperatures like that. The streets of Ronchi dei Legionari remind me a lot of the streets in Toledo when we toured there in Spain last summer. A short drive through the narrow roads and I saw the diamond. We took some team and individual pictures before practice actually started.
Here’s a newsflash for ya: I’m not playing 1st and I’m not #21. Yeah, so weird. Just a little switch to 3rd and #23. It almost feels like a completely different identity. But hey, why not switch it up, am I right? It’s all part of the fun. Day 1 consisted of 2 long practices. A long warm up, defense, hitting, run downs, and bunt defense with a good lunch break in between. For the offensive sessions, I am also helping as a hitting coach. The first couple sessions were just a lot of tee work and getting a feel for what drills I could give them to work on. The last thing we did was front toss on the field. My favorite. I was in the third group and for the first two, there were people in the infield (me being one of them). In the beginning I was thrown way off guard because I have never been on a team that has infielders during front toss. All was good though, everything went well.
Spring Camp day 2/WWI site
Thanks to rain, we weren’t able to play the scheduled game for the afternoon. Practice was first and then we got the chance to visit a site from World War I. I couldn’t tell ya what the name of it was, but I’m just glad the tour guide was speaking English. It was from when Italy was battling the Austrians and Hungarians. We walked down a road that Hungarian soldiers once walked. Its crazy to think, in the moment, that you are standing exactly where a soldier was hundreds of years ago. A hundred years ago, this was utter chaos in every direction. The guide was showing us pictures and then turning around and showing us the trees. The same trees that stood a century ago. We got to a little museum (Museo Grande Guerra I think it was) and it had so much history in it. There were tons of remnants from the war. Helmets, guns, bullets, belt buckles, barbed wire, and even more. Some of it was just piled up in the middle and on the sides of the small shack. They are still finding things from the war. The most recent item was found 2 months ago. After leaving the museum, we went up and around the hill where all the trenches and bunkers were. It was pouring down rain and most of the group went back to the cars to stay warm and dry. There was no way I was leaving yet. It was a pretty quick tour, but super cool to see all the history. I think historical tours are really interesting and I’m glad I got a chance to see the site.
Since the game in the evening got rained out, we were just hanging out at the field in a covered area waiting for dinner. This is the kind of down time where you come up with games to play with groups of people. Softball players know these all too well. Later on that night, we played a board game in the hotel lobby. It was called Activity, kind of like a charades/heads up game. Of course, the words were in German so I was lost half the time, as usual. My translator app was my BFF when it was my turn. But, my group won! Go team. I could hear a thunderstorm brewing outside. Sounds promising for 3 games the following day huh…
Spring Camp day 3
Well, we played. Even with the storm the night before. It turned into a two day tournament with 4 teams (Austria, Hungary, Croatia, Italy) because of rain. Here, or maybe it’s an international thing, the teams go through first and third base to meet at the mound and say good luck before the game. Sometimes they also exchange little gifts at the same time. We had three games with a break in between each one. The first game was against the local Italian team, the Ronchi Stars, and we won 8-2. I went back to my roots to the (other) hot corner. I think that’s where I’ll be playing most of the time, but we will see. I’m happy to be anywhere. I got 3 balls in that game and one of them was a faster girl trying to run out a slap, but I shut that down real quick. We won the second game 15-3 against Novi Zagreb from Croatia and the third game 4-0 against the Budapest Reds from Hungary. I made my centerfield debut in game three! I didn’t get a ball hit to me, but it was still fun! It was quite a day at the plate for me. Getting back out on the dirt felt so good. I hadn’t seen live pitching since my last game in May. The caliber of play isn’t what I am used to, and I knew it would be a big change. I went 8-8 with 4 doubles, a triple, 6 RBI, and a couple of runs. I surprised myself by being patient enough in my first plate appearance to work a walk. You could say it was a good day! The rain held off and all the teams were able to get their games in. I don’t remember the last time I played three games in a day and it’s safe to say that my legs were a little stiff. The quads and hamstrings definitely needed a little extra stretching before and after.
All the meals, besides breakfast at the hotel, were at the field. After the games we had dinner and went back to the hotel. With this crazy 9 hour time difference, I was still able call and chat with my mom for the first time since I left. We talked for almost an hour and a half. She was out running errands in the afternoon and I was about ready to go to bed as it was past midnight when we got off the phone. It was so nice to get a chance to talk. I miss her and the rest of the fam so much!
Spring Camp day 4
After another rainstorm the night before, we were scheduled to play at 11:45 against the winner of the game before us. Well, that game started and then the rain hit. They stopped the game and more rain, and hail, drenched the field. Decisions were made that we were going to wait a couple hours and see how the field looked. By the looks of the field, I thought there was no chance. Fast forward two hours and the game resumed. The sun came out a little bit and then boom. Another storm. As soon as we started warming up it started raining so hard. The thunder and lightning came back too. We were beyond the outfield fence and when the lightning hit and the game didn’t stop. That surprised me because in the states, as soon as you see a flash of lightning, the games are automatically delayed for at least 30 minutes. There was no chance to save the field this time. Tournament directors discussed and decided the placing of the tournament based on the games that were played the previous day. We won! It is the first time the Chicklets have won, so that was pretty cool! There was a little awards ceremony where the top three teams got a plaque. Shortly after that we started the rainy drive back to Austria.
I tuned into my own little world listening to music and looking at the scenery. About 4 hours in, we stopped at McDonald’s. The fanciest McDonalds I’ve ever seen. Maybe it’s a European thing, or maybe I just haven’t been there enough to know. We had to stop at the train station when we got back into Wiener Neustadt to drop off the two Czech players that went with us. It was also the first night I was able to stay at the clubhouse and get somewhat settled. I still didn’t have all my stuff, but I knew I’d be getting that soon. I found 4 spiders, two in my room, within about 20 minutes. If you know me, you know you I hate all spiders and bugs so I didn’t like that surprise. I fired up my laptop and turned on the CWU softball games. It was about 1am by the time I went to sleep and they were in the middle of the second game. I’m sad I won’t be able to watch as many as their games as I normally could, but I’ll take what I can get!
Successful trip to Italy!