Friday, August 2, 2013

Lacey Middlebrooks Steps Into Justin's World

Baseball and softball fans will all recognize the name "Middlebrooks". Will Middlebrooks started his Major League career at a red-hot pace last season, earning the starting third base job and forcing the trade of Kevin Youkilis. 

Lacey as a member of the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
Will's equally-talented younger sister Lacey enjoyed a stellar softball career at Tulsa. After transferring from the University of Minnesota after her freshman season, Lacey really carved out her niche as member of the Hurricane. Showing prowess as both a hitter and in the pitching circle, Lacey earned first-team All-Conference USA honors following her junior season in 2012.

I've never made a secret of the fact that I particularly enjoy the so-called "dual purpose" players, and Lacey is no exception. Throughout her career, she was one of my favorites to watch, and you never knew what was going to happen - was she going to park a round-tripper over the fence, or wait out a base on balls? Or maybe pound out a base hit and let her teammates bring her around?

If you want to talk purely statistically, Lacey's career ERA of 2.27 is astounding, and her career batting average of nearly .300 ain't half bad either! Lacey & Aimee Creger formed a dynamite 1-2 combo from  the circle for the last three years, a dominance that helped the Hurricane to the 2012 conference championship.

Y'all can find Lacey on Facebook here, and follow her on Twitter @lacembrooks

What was it like growing up in such an athletically-gifted family? Your father played college football; your brother broke into the Major Leagues last season and has cemented his place on the Red Sox squad…

It is definitely a blessing to be able to have a father who knows sports and a brother to look up to and compete with. It was great to be able to have someone to throw with or hit with any time of the day. My father played a huge role in my passion for the game; from a young age he was teaching us the ins and outs of whatever sport we were playing at the time. My siblings are my role models and have helped me become the person I am. I’ve grown up with people who push me to be better, and that has played a big part in my life as an athlete, and a person.

Who hit more home runs during backyard wiffle ball, you or Will?

I would have to say Will probably hit the more. If I ever hit one, then the game never ended because he would not let me win or out do him!

Who is your favorite professional athlete?

Kevin Garnett has been an all-time favorite athlete of mine. His intensity and competitiveness on the court is something I admire as an athlete. He is so fierce and out to win. There isn’t anything better than that drive to succeed and make the people around him better.

How and why did you initially choose to attend college and play ball at Minnesota?

Minnesota began recruiting me while I was playing Gold ball with the Tulsa Shootout. While in the midst of looking at other schools throughout the recruiting process, I made a couple unofficial visits up there before an official, and fell in love. The campus was gorgeous and they offered a variety of majors and minors that were interesting to me. I verbally committed to the University of Minnesota after Gold Nationals, the summer of my senior year of high school. They were always in my top choices of schools since the beginning because of the coaches. I was so comfortable and confident in what they said, and once I visited the campus, I didn’t want to be anywhere else. Everything about the program made me excited and with Minnesota being part of the Big 10 Conference and a strong, competitive softball conference, I wanted to be a part of that.

What factors led to your decision to transfer to Tulsa for your final three years of eligibility?

Well, I had an injury to my throwing arm (two stress fractures in my forearm) that ended my freshman season the weekend of the Michigan series. (Weird how I remember such small details) Being away from home had not been an issue the entire time at Minnesota until I was done for the year. Not being able to play made me miss being closer to home and that pushed my decision to get closer to my family. Looking back, it couldn’t have worked out any better.

I was familiar with Tulsa and their program since they recruited me throughout high school. I knew the coaches liked to compete with teams in every conference. Not only did they have a strong and growing program, but looking at it from an academic perspective, I couldn’t go wrong. I was taking a leap of faith but I’m glad I did.

Although not given much publicity, unfortunately, you played for a very good program and with some extremely talented teammates at Tulsa. How do you see the Hurricane program progressing in the next few to several years?

Coming into Tulsa and the established softball program was a great opportunity to further my softball career. When I transferred and began my sophomore year at Tulsa, there was already a talented group of girls in my class. The softball program was getting stronger each year we played. The career that my teammates and I had at Tulsa was more than special, even though we fell short of a goal; the World Series. We achieved so much during our time as a Golden Hurricane and couldn’t be more proud of what we did for the program.
For so long Tulsa has been known as a university with a strong focus on academics, and they will always to be, but in my eyes, we helped put Tulsa on the map as a great softball program. We competed and had great success. From our sophomore year to senior year, we learned from wins and more importantly losses. We made it a goal to be better than the year before. We were such an intense group who hated to lose more than we loved to win, and I loved every minute playing with them.

For Tulsa, the next few to several years will be a time of transition. The returning players are so experienced, and the senior class is full of veterans that understand what it will take to win. I have no doubt that they will lead the rest of the team. They will be younger (bringing in a large freshman class), yet extremely capable of reaching goals and succeeding. The sophomore and junior class will be able to show the younger girls how it should be done. The underclassmen were able to see how hard we have to work to maintain great and successful team chemistry, and to win. The Tulsa team knows what it takes to be a top softball program and succeed at the highest level. I think they have great things to come for that program and I look forward to keeping up with them. They will go out and play hard every game and never back down. I think that’s important.

That's a home run swing if I ever saw one!
If you could take away just one memory from your career, what moment or experience would you want to be able to look back on?

I could name a couple, but this one is by far the best.

There isn’t a better memory than when my brother and I hit simultaneous homeruns last year. It was unreal, bizarre, and quite exciting to say the least. To share that with someone would be awesome, but to be able to share that moment with my brother is something special. All I remember is checking my phone after the game and having tons of texts and pictures about the homeruns, and the rest was a blur. Once it registered, all I could think was, “how in the world did this even happen? Are they serious?” I was more excited for him because it was his first Major League career homerun, and a grand slam at that.  It will definitely be something that we will remember forever, and I can’t wait to share it with others.

If at all possible, describe what you were feeling when the final out was recorded and your collegiate career officially ended?

Well just thinking about how I will answer this question gives me goose bumps, if that’s any indication of how fresh the emotions still are.

Almost numb; I could feel all sorts of emotions but it seemed surreal.

For so long this game has been a huge part of my life. Through the transition of life itself and every part of growing up, softball was such a consistent part of it; sometimes an escape from other things going on and something that I thought would never end. It didn’t seem like it should be over because this was now 15 years of softball coming to an end. It took a while to get over, especially since I pitched the final game. Right after the game, t a few days after the game I went round and round wondering what I could have done better. Cliché I know, but everything happens for a reason.

It’s become bittersweet. I will miss every part of playing the game of softball because it has taught me so much about sports, as well as life. I’ve met some of the best people through softball, but everything eventually comes to an end. I’ve made great memories and can’t wait to start the next part of my life.

Now that you’re collegiate career has ended, does that also end your involvement in the game? Is coaching at some level perhaps in your future?

For as long as I can remember, I always wanted to do something different than coaching. Not because I dislike it, but I have been around it all of my life with my father being a coach and my involvement in sports. Even though sports have been and always will be a part of my life, I want to experience the other side of sports. So my involvement in the game will not end. At the end of June I will make a move to Boston to begin working. My plans are to begin working with a baseball academy outside of Boston, to assist in starting a softball side, so that’s exciting. I will also be doing some work with the Red Sox. They were two great opportunities that were hard to turn down.

After a public relations internship with the Pawtucket PawSox (Triple A Affiliate of the Boston Red Sox) I want to do more of what I call the business side of sports; something where I can experience different things than as an athlete. Eventually I plan to work with communications or journalism/public relations in professional sports. It’s a career that allows me to be near the sports I love while doing something new.

Is playing professionally or Team USA something you had thought of pursuing or hoped to pursue?

Playing professionally would have been great but unfortunately I won’t be able to do so. After complete ACL reconstruction during my senior year of high school and surgery this past fall to repair a torn meniscus and cartilage, my knee will be the reason why. This last year of softball has pushed it further than I think it could go, and sometimes the mind set of ‘just keep pushing’ doesn’t work for everything. As an athlete I didn’t want to limit any activity, especially when it came to softball but I had to understand my current situation. The amount of wear and deterioration of cartilage, meniscus and some ligaments forced an end to softball, and I knew it would. I will eventually need a knee replacement somewhere down the road, so playing anything else is kind of out of the picture.

Say you were stranded on a deserted island and could only take three items along with you. Boats and phones are off-limits. What would you carry with you?

I would most definitely carry coffee because I need caffeine to survive, a bathing suit, and a tent for shelter. Hahaha I’m not sure what else would be useful.

If you could have any superpower imaginable, what would it be and why?

I think I would enjoy having the option to fly or not. I’m not sure why, but it would just be awesome to fly above everyone, especially the slow walkers in the mall or on the sidewalk. I don’t have much patience I guess. Hahaha!

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