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Friday, April 24, 2015

Cassie Reilly-Boccia Steps Into Justin's World

Last week, I reviewed the book Finished It, the story of the 2012 championship-winning Alabama team. The book was written by Cassie Reilly-Boccia, the starting senior first baseman for that team. Today, we have the privilege of featuring a full-length interview with Reilly-Boccia herself, as she dishes on more of her memories, the process of writing the book, and more.

Justin's World: How did you get started playing softball?
Cassie Reilly-Boccia: I grew up with my grandparents and my grandpa had always played softball. He grew up in the Bronx and he had never played baseball for some reason, it was always softball. And he just started teaching me in my backyard, since I was little and got my first mitt. A couple of town little league teams here and there and I finally got to play on my first travel ball team when I was twelve and I loved competing, I loved playing against teams and people that I've never heard of and seeing the way someone else pitched, or seeing the way someone else swung a bat and that was awesome and then, the stars aligned from then on out. I was able to play for a really great travel ball team out of New Jersey, get recruited, and then obviously, I had the opportunity to play at Alabama. So it's been a really, really cool experience. And it's cool for me that it all started with my grandpa in the backyard.

Justin's World: Tell me how you ended up at Alabama.
Reilly-Boccia: It's actually a funny story. I had started making a criteria when I realized that I wanted to play softball in college; I made a criteria that said okay, I want to go to school two or three hours away from home, to a tiny school no bigger than 5,000 people... I was looking at small D3 schools. Basically, the exact opposite of everything that Alabama is. I was going to get really homesick if I went too far away. I remember the first email that I first got from Alabama, I got from coach Aly [Habetz] and she said "I hope you can become part of our Alabama family one day". And I thought, 'Oh, that's interesting. They call themselves a family.' And I thought that was really cool, and I went on a visit and absolutely fell in love with everything about it. It wasn't just the coaches, it wasn't just the players, it was the South. It was the campus. It was the feeling that I got when I was there. It was just something in my gut that said 'this is going to be right' and everything just fell into place. I'm very thankful for that opportunity because there are a ton of amazing softball players out there, and I know a lot of them want to play softball at Alabama, and the fact that I had the opportunity to... I still have to pinch myself when I think about it.

Justin's World: How far is the University of Alabama from where you're originally from?
Reilly-Boccia: 1,007 miles. My parents and I have made that trip a few times; it's a fourteen-hour drive. I think LaGuardia just opened up a direct flight, but it's usually a connecting flight, about a two-three hour flight. So it's not too bad; not nearly as bad as what [former teammate] Kayla Braud had from Oregon!

Justin's World: Tell me what it was like playing for Patrick Murphy.
Reilly-Boccia: You know, it was really cool. I realized, and I know everyone in my freshman class realized early-on, that Murphy was trying to make us much better people before softball players. Although he cared about winning (obviously, he's a coach at a winning university), he was much more concerned with the way we treated other people and much more concerned with how we conducted ourselves and he was always trying to make us better young women and prepare us for what we would face next. Winning was a byproduct of all of that, and I think that's why he has so much respect not only in Alabama but all over, because I think he does things the right way. It's been very cool - I'm grateful that I got to play for him, but even more thankful that I get to call him a friend. He still calls and checks up on me and my family.

Justin's World: Now let's talk about your book! Tell me what made you decide to write a book about the championship-winning season?
Reilly-Boccia: It wasn't until over a year after we actually won it. We won the National Championship and it was a whirlwind summer and I went straight to Cedar Falls, Iowa to get my Master's degree. I moved out of Alabama, I moved another 1,000 miles away from home, and I started to realize Alabama softball is a really big deal in Iowa too. A lot of people fell in love with our team during the World Series and there were travel teams here and there who would ask 'would you mind coming to talk to our team' just about how you guys won a national championship. I realized that those talks ended up being the highlight of my week or my month when I was in Iowa; I started to really enjoy that, and every time I left after talking to a team, I always thought that I want more girls to know that we won it the right way. 

A good friend of mine is Bridget Quimpo ,the head coach at Ramapo College. While I was on the way to Tennessee to watch Bama play Tennessee in the Super Regionals, I called her and I asked 'Hey, what do you think about an online blog or some place that I can just talk about the stories of how we won [the championship]. Do you think girls would read that? Do you think more travel teams would realize it's not okay to throw your helmet or things like that? And she goes "I think you should start writing, see where it goes, and I think you should write a book". I laughed at it, because that seemed very overwhelming at the time, but I started writing after that and realized it could turn into something more.

Justin's World: Was delving into the "literary arts" something you'd ever thought of doing before the idea for this book came about?
Reilly-Boccia: *laughs* No, and that's the funny thing. I said 'I know nothing about writing a book'. I joke that my first draft was "Finished It, by Cassie Reilly-Boccia" and that was it. No rhyme or reason to it; there were a lot of stories just thrown on paper. I had the opportunity to pick a publisher's brain and one thing she said was "Make sure you're not just throwing stories out there; make sure you have a beginning, middle, and end." And that's when I had the idea to do the flashbacks at the end of each chapter. To take the readers throughout the championship-game day. I was actually writing my thesis at the same time as the book, and a thesis is the exact opposite of a book. It's very cut-and-dried, and I was taking classes on how to get rid of any literary anything - you're supposed to take out the "enjoyable" stuff when you're writing a scientific article! Luckily, a lot of people in my life were able and willing to help me out with the book side of it.

Justin's World: You mentioned earlier that your first thought was to start a blog. Now that you have the book, is the blog something you might revisit at some point, to share more stories or your thoughts on a subject or anything?
Reilly-Boccia: I have been thinking about that because I have a lot of pictures and videos that go along with the book, and I thought it would be neat to share those, too. I didn't have an opportunity to share them in the book, obviously. I did start a blog on hitting lessons, so I'm still writing but less in that mold. It is something I'm interested in doing, though.

Justin's World: Tell me about the writing process.
Reilly-Boccia: I got lucky, because I journaled a LOT throughout my playing career, and anytime we went to the World Series, I wrote down each night how I was feeling. I kept a hitting journal my entire senior year, which helped a lot. Then we were fortunate to be televised a lot, so I had video of it. Going back and going through my old journals, it was funny how it brought back the same feelings. An old teacher once told me that you're never going to be able to replicate physical pain or something that you felt, but you can relive emotions one day, and it's so true. I watched the National Championship replay almost a year later and I got that same nervous excitement again. Watching Jackie warm up in the bullpen; it all came rushing back. It was really cool, but then I had to close the computer and go to class when I had just put myself back into the day of the national championship game! For sure, it was a ton of fun writing it.

Justin's World: What kind of response have you had to your book so far?
Reilly-Boccia: You know, it's funny, because the publishing company had said that anywhere from two-three weeks, the book will be live and available for purchase. That must have been a worst-case scenario because it was just three-five days and I found out it was available on the company's website, on Amazon, and on Barnes & Noble. It's been really cool so far, because even softball girls that I've had tweets from, even teams and coaches. My one goal for this book is that maybe it could help the game that I love so much, and these responses have been really, really neat. It's meant a lot that they bought the book in the first place, but then that they read it and took the time to send me a message has been really cool, too.

Justin's World: And now, for my signature question: If you were stranded on a deserted island, but could take three things with you, what would you take? No boats and no phones because that would spoil the fun!
Reilly-Boccia: OK, I would take the very, very large empty journal that I could write in. I would take a book that I do not understand at all, that I could hopefully read five, six, seven times over again until I get something out of it. And the third thing... huh. I'm not quite sure about that third thing. I'd definitely need a journal and a good book. I might take a Rubik's cube! That's been a bucket list item that I've never had the opportunity to figure out.

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