By DOUG SMITH
Niagara Gazette — LOUISVILLE, Ky – The spirit of Niagara-Wheatfield infuses the NCAA Softball World Series today as one of its greatest athletes defends the area between second and third base which has come to be known as “Attfield’s Acres.”
Four-time Gazette Player of the Year Caitlin Attfield comes into the 4 p.m. game vs. with a .367 batting average, more stolen bases than the rest of her University of Alabama-Birmingham teammates combined and 52 games at shortstop.
A year ago, shortstop seemed a long shot. UAB Coach Marla Townsend softly drawled to the Gazette last spring that Attfield’s future was likely in the outfield. “She’s so fast,” Townsend said while en route to scouting more talent at a Florida showcase. “Playing the infield might waste that speed.”
But a funny thing happened on the way to UAB’s fourth consecutive World Series appearance. According to Coach Townsend, now humming along on a noisy busful of athletes en route to Louisville, “it happened that we have two drop pitchers.” Opponents hit a lot of ground balls.
“And she has such range and such an arm,” she continued. “And she fields well. Shortstop is her position and she’s earned it.” By season’s end she led the team in assists and was third in putouts, behind only the catcher and first-baseman.
Attfield herself knew well of UAB’s addiction to the post-season. “Still, I can’t believe it, I’m in shock,” she said. “They’ve been so nice to me, too.” As Dad Jim Attfield observes, “everything they ever said about Southern hospitality is true. People there have just taken her under their wings.”
The most difficult adjustment to college ball, she said, “was the number of games we play. (The Blazers come in at 37-16.) And the pitching is so much better.” Well, she is .400 points under her senior-year average as a Falcon, but .367 is 20 points higher than any other Blazer, and she has 23 stolen bases in 33 attempts. No other Blazer has achieved double figures. She piled up LeBron James numbers in earning the honor of Conference USA Freshman of the Year.
Dad will join Caitlin in Louisville today, just as he took in the C-USA tournament in Oklahoma last weekend. “It’s what you dream about,” he says. “I wouldn’t miss this for the world.”
Caitlin’s a rare find for UAB. No other player hails from north of South Carolina. The weather, she says, suits her fine, about the only thing she doesn’t miss about life along Saunders Settlement.
Coach Townsend especially likes her as a “go-getter,” coming straight from the weight room to invest 110 per cent in travel. Has Attfield taught her coach anything new about Northern ball.
“Maybe not, except that they work hard,” the coach said. “She doesn’t talk a lot.”
And Dad tries to take things in stride. “College ball is different,” he says, then adding a disclaimer that suggests that father doesn’t always know best.
“Every team has a Caitlin Attfield,” he says.
Only in their dreams.