Friday, February 7, 2014

Beth Spoehr Steps Into Justin's World

If you've visited the Justin's World Facebook page, you've probably seen the picture that has been the cover photo on the page since March of last year. If you don't recognize the young lady in the photo, it is none other than today's featured player, Ms. Elizabeth Spoehr.

Though the photo is one of the best I saw through all of last season, Beth's career covered far more than a single picture. A four-year member of the UMaine Black Bears, I always enjoyed watching Beth pitch; her win-loss record really didn't tell the whole story. She was -- and still is -- a remarkable pitcher.

After college, Beth headed overseas to play ball in Sweden, where she took on a Ty Cobb-esque role, pitching, helping coach and teach some of the other players, and even hitting some.

It seemed like Beth and I talked about a little bit of everything (a good thing), and this is one of my favorite interviews of the year. Just a sampling of what Beth and I talked about:
- The difference between a hope-to-win & expect-to-win mentality
- How having the chance to swing the bat helped her as a pitcher
- How playing international ball helped her grow personally
- Her plans for the future, as a player and coach
- Why she would want Jennie Finch to play her in a movie

After you've enjoyed this interview, remember to check out Beth's blog about all things Sweden here, and on Twitter @_BethSpoehr32

Justin’s World: How did you get your start playing softball?
Beth Spoehr: My dad was big into slow pitch softball so he introduced it to my older sister and me when we were little.

JW: How did your older sister’s influence & playing experience impact you & your career?
BS: My older sister’s influence was she is 18 months older than me and she wanted to be the pitcher first. My dad would take her to Sunday morning pitching at the high school near our house and I would just tag a long. Soon I started pitching with her and the rest is history.

JW: How did you choose UMaine?
BS: My high school pitching coach Denis Utecht’s daughter, Linnea Utecht, became the pitching coach at UMaine my junior year of high school. She recruited me and at first I had no interest, I thought who goes to school in Maine. I decided to go on the recruiting visit they offered me and fell in love with the school. I am very happy with my choice especially because my pitching coach, Denis Utecht, passed away unexpectedly spring of my senior year and I know he really wanted to see me go there.

JW: I saw an article where you mentioned a hope-to-win mentality versus an expect-to-win approach. What do you see as the biggest differences between the two, and how do you think a player or team has an advantage by adopting one mindset over the other?
BS: The biggest difference between the two is a certain confidence you NEED to have that you just expect to win. I’ve played on teams that expect to win as well as ones that hope to win and there is a huge difference. It takes each person on the team truly believing in themselves. There is no room for hoping J.

JW: You’ve obviously been a pitcher throughout your college career, but I understand you got to swing the bat some while overseas. Do you prefer being primarily a pitcher, or is being a dual threat more your style?
BS: That’s a tough question. I love just pitching and no hitting because that is what I grew up doing. It is what I am comfortable with and use to. With that being said, I did really enjoy getting the opportunity to help my team out at the plate. It was thrilling getting that shot to make a big difference offensively but it was also difficult for me to truly focus on both. I found it challenging to commit myself 100 percent mentally at the plate while pitching still held so much of my focus.

JW: How does playing offensively help you better understand the game from a pitching standpoint, and vice versa?
BS: Playing offensively definitely gave me much more respect for hitters. Throughout my career I would get easily frustrated at hitters who froze in big situations or when my team didn’t produce at the plate. I think that stemmed from me not being a major offensive player growing up. I saw how much pressure it was this summer and it isn’t as easy as it looks, especially when you are in the meat of the line up and your team is depending on you. I am very glad I got the opportunity to be one of my team’s big offensive producers this past summer. It made me respect another part of the game even more.

JW: What would you say is the proudest moment of your career?
BS: That is tough I would say the proudest moment of my career would either be senior day at UMaine, just knowing I made it, I accomplished my goal of pitching 4 years of D1 softball. But now looking back on it I think the proudest moment of my career was having my parents come watch a game in Sweden. Having them there with me and realizing what an amazing journey it has been just because I really like pitching a softball. That is what I dreamt of growing up, that is when I really reached all my goals. It was a pretty cool feeling.

JW: You’ve received quite a few of them, but if you had to choose just one, what would you say is your favorite award or accolade that you’ve received?
BS: It is not really an award but I LOVED receiving my Varsity Letter “M” at the senior banquet at UMaine. Instead of a letterman’s jacket they gave each senior athlete a plaque with the Varsity Letter “M” on it. That’s when I knew I had truly accomplished something special and I would be part of the Black Bear family forever.

JW: How did the opportunity arise for you to play in Sweden?
BS: I received an email from the old UMBC assistant coach. He had gone over to Sweden to coach for a summer and now recruits for them. He saw me play at UMBC my sophomore year and sent me an email right before Thanksgiving my senior year. I will never ever forget getting that email. Talk about making someone’s day!!

JW: Prior to that offer, had you entertained the possibility or considered playing ball past college?
BS: Absolutely. I wasn’t sure if I was good enough when I was in college but I knew that all I wanted was an opportunity overseas. I love to travel and that’s all I thought about towards the end of my career. Then out of the blue I got that email, it was like an answer to a prayer.

JW: What did international playing experience teach you, and how did playing and traveling overseas help you learn & grow as a person?
BS: I can’t even begin to say how much it helped me grow as a person. Playing internationally is an experience I will never forget and I would highly recommend to anyone. I feel I was extremely lucky to have such a great host family and support system in Sweden. It helped me realize how big this world is but yet at the same time, helped me see that people all the around this world are so much more alike then we are different. I grew so much and it helped me establish a whole new set of goals and gave me direction for my life after my softball career.

JW: At the present, what are your thoughts regarding continuing your playing career overseas next year and beyond?
BS: I am really entertaining the thought of playing overseas again this summer. I have considered going back to Sweden again, as I said it was such a great experience! The place I would most like to travel to is Australia. I know softball is decently popular there and so I am currently looking for some way I might be able to get on a team over there for the summer. Let me know if you have any leads I can grab onto J I don’t feel like I am ready to give up my pitching career yet.

JW: Are you considering possibly finding a coaching job at some level once your playing career is done? Or perhaps some other position within the game?
BS: Yes! As I mentioned before I established new goals for myself now. I teach pitching lessons at home full time at the moment and love it. Pitching is my passion in life there is no doubt about that. I would love an opportunity to be a pitching coach at the D1 level and take it from there. I know that no matter what softball pitching will always be in my life. Whether it is coaching 9 year olds or in the Big Ten, it will always be a major part of who I am.

JW: If a genie granted you three wishes, what would you ask for?
1.   For everyone to treat each other as they would want to be treated.
2.   The NPF (national pro fastpitch) to become as big as major league baseball.
3.   Be able to visit every country in the world. 

JW: Say a movie was going to be made about your life. Who would you cast to play the role of Beth, and what would you call the film?
BS: If I could cast anyone to play the role of Beth I’d obviously cast Jennie Finch hahaha! She is everything I inspire to be and would make me look good on the mound J. I would need some professional help in naming the movie. I have no idea!!! None of the names I can think of fit just right.

JW: If you could have dinner & sit down and talk with any three people from history, who would they be and why?
1.   Mother Teresa- She is the most caring and selfless woman. She would inspire me in every way to become a better person. Her faith in and ability to always do what is right is absolutely incredible.
2.   Jennie Finch- She has completely changed the game of softball. When I was little there wasn’t really a major face of the sport, it still lacked identity. She has given the sport a great identity and raised the sports popularity everywhere in the USA and beyond. I teach lots of little girls and every single one of them know who Jennie Finch is. She is an inspiration and role model to softball players everywhere. I only dream of getting to do the things she has done/continues to do.
3.   Martin Luther King Jr.- His story is incredible. He stands out to me when I think of the word BRAVE. You need to be brave in order to make a difference. I would love to talk to him about how he channeled that and dealt with all the issues he faced on a daily basis. What an incredible man.

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