Thursday, August 29, 2013

Callista Balko Enters Justin's World

This interview is actually a first for me- this is the 1st time reader demand has prompted an interview with a player. Callista was on my radar for a feature at some point, but a fella on Twitter specifically requested a feature on her. And when somebody asks me to feature one of the best of all-time at her position, you really think I'm gonna say no?! Not gonna happen.

Callista was just as kind and gracious as could be, and was immediately willing to be a part of Justin's World. If you've never heard of Callista, you need to change that. Like, now. One of the best catchers of all time, she starred for the University of Arizona and played a part of season in the pros. She's a top softball instructor, on even an international level.

To the best of my knowledge, Callista does not have a Twitter account, but she is on Facebook! Enjoy the interview and be sure to check her out on Facebook!

What are your earliest memories of playing the game of softball?
My earliest memories would be when I was 8 playing “minis”.  I was so competitive growing up because I had 4 older athletic siblings always outdoing me!  The competitiveness kicked in at these games when I would be playing 3rd and a ball was hit to second base; I’d run all the way across the field and field the ball, throw it to first and celebrate if I got her out.  My parents and coaches had to sit me down and teach me that I had to stay in my “area” and couldn’t play every position.  That’s when I decided at the next level I would pitch or catch so I could be in every play! Hence why I was a catcher in my collegiate days!

What factors led to your decision to attend and play ball at the University of Arizona?
I was a local girl and growing up UofA was always a dream of every young softball player.  Coach came to me when I was a Junior and asked me to verbally commit. It was one of those moments where you say to yourself, how could I every even have to think about it, so my answer, without hesitation was yes!

What did the opportunity to play for such a storied program mean to you?
I have always been pretty humble, and I can thank my parents for that, they always kept me grounded so when I go the offer I was almost in shock.  I never really thought about where I’d play, I just knew if I went out and played to my potential every tournament an opportunity would arise. I never didn’t consider other schools, even smaller name schools I thought would be good, I just didn’t want to limit myself by only focusing on the schools every girl wanted to play at like Arizona, UCLA, Texas etc. 

Describe what it was like to put on the Wildcat uniform day-in and day-out and represent the U of A on the field.
First of all, everyone who puts on that traditional Arizona uniform strongly feels it’s the best uniform out there. Seriously though, that uniform is so classic, you can’t beat it.  It really hasn’t changed too much which I think Coach prefers.  He wanted and continues to strive for tradition, and it all starts with the same uni’s the girls wore in the early 90’s!  I felt such pride wearing that name across my chest, and I think the fact that so many softball legends also wore that uniform I felt it was my duty to bust it 110% every day on the field, I didn’t want to let anyone down or have anyone think I didn’t belong.

The Wildcats won two WCWS championships during your career there. What was that experience like for you, to be a part of the best team in the country two years in a row?
Ever since my freshman year it was instilled in me that winning wasn’t an option, it was a way of life for UA softball. So even the thought of not making the tournament was never even a thought throughout the process, we all knew we would be there, not just because we were Arizona, but because we truly were that confident in our potential.  The beauty of those two winning teams was we fought even harder when our backs were against the wall. I had never played for a team that was that scrappy, honestly we could be down by 5 and not one person worried, we just knew we had the competitive drive to come back!

What is your favorite memory or moment from your career as a whole?
My favorite memory was my sophomore year, winning the National Championship.  That team I would say had the BEST chemistry I have experienced.  We just clicked, on and off the field, which is hard to do with 17 girls.  We were so close and everyone just had a way of picking someone up and being supportive.  There was no selfishness that year and those girls were the best to play with!

Describe Mike Candrea in three words.
Committed.  Paternal.  Intense & Compassionate ( I had to throw all four in!)

You played professional softball for a little while, although not quite a full season, as I recall [feel free to correct me if I’m wrong]. Was playing pro ball something you’d always wanted to do, and why end your professional career so soon?
I always wanted to play pro, I did finish one season but it just wasn’t for me.   I knew that softball was my passion but I also knew I was ready for the next stage in my life, which was coaching and finding a career. So I chose to coach in Tucson, and get into grad school and start my career!  I am happy I made that decision.

Since your softball-playing career ended, what career path have you elected to follow?
Currently I am focused on earning my Masters in Public Admin,  I am working as a graduate assistant for the Arizona Athletics Dept. I love my job, I get to plan events and work on the A-Club which is an exclusive club designed for alumni letterwinners who played at Arizona.  We plan reunions, alumni weekends, homecomings etc.  It’s an awesome job but I will soon be graduating and working elsewhere in either the spring or summer of 2014.  I enjoy marketing, event planning and sales, all very broad but I have been able to get experience in all at Arizona.

Are you still involved with the game of softball in some capacity?
Absolutely, I am still coaching individually in addition to my camps & clinics.  I work locally with kids and help them learn the game, teach them mechanics etc.  I also run camps locally and nationally helping mostly catchers and hitters improve their game. I seriously love it!! I hope I can always do this in some capacity but I feel blessed that I am able to continue to be involved and teach the youngsters!

Is coaching, whether privately or at a school or university, something you’re presently doing or hope to do in the future?
Yes, I think teaching individually is where it’s at for me. I don’t have the time to take on a team or high school and I thought a few years back I’d coach collegiately but I think I’d rather continue at the individual level, I enjoy it very much. 

If you were stranded on a deserted island and could take three things along with you – boats and phones are off-limits – what would you carry along?
Wow this is a funny question.  I have this weird obsession with eyebrows and mine are always plucked so yes a tweezers would be one, so very random I know, I wouldn’t want to be rescued without groomed brows!! J.  The other two would be tennis shoes so I could travel the island and be comfortable walking or running around, also I love to work out so it would give me support to run or work out.  And then the most logical would be a filter for water J If I was really making this decision, maybe the tweezers would take a back seat to something like sunscreen J

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