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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Miranda Kramer Steps Into Justin's World

No one fit the label of "breakout star" in 2015 more than Western Kentucky's Miranda Kramer. After transferring from IPFW following 2014, in order to rejoin former head coach Amy Tudor, the move not only proved fruitful but star-making as she rose through the ranks to become one of the nation's top hurlers and a prime member of the class of 2015.

Photo: Don Martukovich
A consensus first-team all-American and Conference USA's Pitcher of the Year, Kramer collected three no-hitters, a perfect game, and an incredible 439 strikeouts. She led the nation in strikeouts per seven innings with 12.6.

The 439 strikeouts is more than 1/3 of her career total; her single season at WKU also gave her the school's record for opponent's batting average, as opposing hitters hit a minuscule .123 against her in 2015.

Kramer's success very nearly propelled the Hilltoppers to the Super Regional round of the NCAA tournament. Placed in the Georgia regional, she pitched every inning of a fourteen-inning marathon against the Bulldogs, gathering nineteen strikeouts and only allowing five hits. Though her squad ultimately lost both games of a doubleheader the following day to be eliminated, Kramer's gutsy performance is one of the finest in recent postseason memory.

Before her WKU career even began, Kramer was a stud at IPFW. She gathered two all-conference first-team nods in her three years, as well as an all-region and the Summit League's Pitcher of the Year trophy year in her final season in Fort Wayne.

When the time came for the NPF draft, she was the second pitcher and first southpaw selected, falling barely into the second round at #6. Picked by the Pennsylvania Rebellion, she joined their pitching staff and, after overcoming an injury, pitched sparingly through the course of the year.

Justin’s World: Tell me how you got started playing softball and when you really knew it was “your” game.
Miranda Kramer: I got started playing softball when I was little. I remember hitting with a plastic bat and thinking I was some big hitter. It really started as a family thing; my mom played in high school and my older sister, Kirstin, played, so I just fell in line. I really realized my future was in this game when I started going to pitching lessons and fell in love with the game. When someone wants to spend a Saturday night at a dirt field or gym, pitching and doing workouts rather than out running around with friends, that's when you know. Or at least that's when I did. 

Justin’s World: Did you play any other sports as a youngster, other than softball? Give me
your thoughts on young athletes specializing in only one sport from almost day one of their athletic careers.
Miranda Kramer: I played a lot of other sports besides softball. I ran track until my freshman year of high school, volleyball, soccer growing up, and basketball, with the obvious softball. I don't know how different my life would be if I just played softball. I was fortunate to know that I loved the game and it was something I wanted to do long-term. I think it was a good experience for me to not specialize because even if I wasn't a stand-out athlete in that sport, I stayed in shape and made great memories. I didn't specialize in softball until my senior year of high-school, so even when I knew my future was in softball, I still kept my options open. 

Justin’s World: What is your favorite moment or memory from your career?
Miranda Kramer: This is a tough question because I have so many! Aside from all the amazing people I meet through this game, my favorite memory so far in my career would have to be winning our conference titles, at both IPFW and WKU. I get goosebumps just thinking about it, and I know it wasn't the World Series, but the happiness surrounding me from basically earning our keep in the softball world made those memories so great. Another distinct memory was in Georgia when I had pitched my last inning of collegiate ball and got taken out, to a standing ovation from the fans, players, and coaches on both sides. That just made me feel happy, as much as it hurt, because I knew I made a name for myself and lived the best dream any little girl from small town Iowa could dream of. It meant so much to have that feeling and support from everyone. 

Justin’s World: Take me back to the regional versus Georgia, specifically the extra-inning game on Saturday. Tell me about your mindset going into that game, as well as during the game as inning after inning wore on and the two teams were still deadlocked.
Miranda Kramer: My mindset that whole regional was one game, one pitch at a time. So going into the regional, my main focus was UNC; I know they had tough hitters and I had to be better. The Georgia game, from even the warm-up, was eventful. Everyone knows that is a tough crowd to play in front of and I knew it would be a good game. I knew it was a bigger stage but I was ready and like I said, one game, one pitch at a time. We fell behind in the beginning and I was just putting faith in our offense to come out on top; I was standing at the end of the dugout, pacing I believe, and Brooke Holloway hit that home run. I was just going insane. After every inning someone would say "Miranda, we are gonna get a run," and I remember sitting on the bench, inning after inning. My finger was ripped open, bleeding, and I was shaking from adrenaline. Coach Tudor came up to me and said ‘you have this, keep your finger out of sight, out of mind. Give me one more inning. So I did. I pushed through. There were 17 girls who were looking to me to keep them in that game and I wanted it so bad for them and for Coach Tudor. We wanted to make history and the first step was fighting through that game. After we won that game, I was just overwhelmed with happiness. I knew we belonged there and my mindset changed to getting ready for the next game. 

Justin’s World: After your Toppers came out on top in that battle, Sunday did not prove as fruitful. Were you fatigued at all going into Sunday? What did you do to be as fresh as you could on Sunday?
Miranda Kramer: I wouldn't say I was fatigued; I was in great shape, enough to handle days like that, and knowing that, for us to win Saturday and not force a second game, I would have to possibly throw, helped a lot. My sister and best friend were pumping fluids in me; my trainer and PT were getting my arm and finger ready, and I was just sitting there watching the Georgia/UNC game to see who we would play. Sunday was a tough day; I never want to put blame on injuries, but I had one serious injury that we kept under wraps for the majority of the season. It was bothering me and my finger obviously was ripped open, taking some spin away. Not so much fatigue as it was unfortunate events, and I feel that, if I was 100% with my finger and forearm, that game would've been a different outcome for us. After the first game, I think coach saw it for what it was and was hopeful for a win in game two. I remember she looked at me as I was tucking my uniform in and getting my mindset ready and said "I need to know if you want to pitch," and I said "yes I do, do you have a game ball" Even though I was in the pain I was in, I wanted that ball. It was my game to win or lose and I wasn't going to lay down and let them run us over; I was going to give them a fight. For Coach Tudor and the 17 girls who stood by my side. It just ended up on the wrong side for the Toppers that day and my body just was screaming "no more" at me. 

Justin’s World: Let’s talk about your transfer from IPFW to WKU before your senior season… talk to me about the decision that led to the move, following your coach to her new school, and what it meant to have so many teammates and classmates transfer with you.
Miranda Kramer: Well, my decision was made the day Coach Tudor left and went to WKU. I chose IPFW to be coached by her, so it only made sense I follow the coach who has molded me into the player I am today. I asked for a blanket request and was denied, so I asked another time and was told I was being denied because of what the university did for me. So I made the personal decision to stick out the year, for my five seniors who took me under their wing as a freshman, and make the best of it. I firmly believe if I was under Tudor, I would've accomplished so much more, as well as having three conference titles instead of two. After we lost, I knew I would be transferring. When we got off the bus, after what our team went through that year, they released everyone if they wanted to go, so I took the opportunity and ran with it. The first person I called was Coach Tudor and I made the decision to leave. I told my catcher, Dani, and put her in a tough position saying ‘I would love to have my right hand by my side’. Next thing I know, one after the other came and the whole 2015 class was going to WKU together. It was a scary experience and a tough decision because I was getting offers from other schools as well, bigger than WKU, but I'm a loyal person and Coach took a risk on a little Iowa girl four years ago, so I took a risk on a school in Kentucky for her. And it was definitely worth it. There were plenty of critics and there always will be, telling me I won't be a starter, what if I don't like it, how could I leave my team, look at what IPFW did for me, etc., but in the back of my mind, I was willing to deal with it to play the game I love. Aside from the negative, there were soooo many supporters from home and even IPFW in my friends and former athletic advisor. I knew I made the right choice. 

Justin’s World: When you’re playing as dominantly as you did at times during the season, what do you have 
to do to keep your mind in check and continue to focus on winning games as the goal and not padding your own excellent statistics.
Miranda Kramer: I have never been a person who has played the game just to make myself look good. It's never me; you will never hear me say "We lost but I did amazing". That's not who I am. I am so competitive that I could throw a perfect game and still find flaws. If Coach Tudor drilled one thing in my brain, it was to hate losing. I just really focus on controlling what I can control and this year it was pitching; I can only control my pitching performance, so if I did better, it helped the team. If the offense was struggling that day, it was ok because I could control my pitching performance to keep us in the game. It's never about making my stats better, but every year I tried to be better than the last year and in turn, it made the team better. We would compete. Even if that meant just within our pitching staff; they pushed me and I expected them to, I had to earn my starting spot just like they had to work to pry it away from me. But at the end of the day, I have their backs and they have mine. It's good to have individual goals, so long as it benefits the ultimate team goal. My goals have never been to earn seven pitcher of the week awards; it's always been goals like have more strikeouts, lower my ERA, get a better spin... and in the end, those all contributed to our team goal of a C-USA regular season and tournament title. Then from there, it was survive and move on. 


Justin’s World: What was your thought when you were drafted to the NPF? Prior to being drafted, was playing professionally something you had ever thought about doing or wanted to do?
Miranda Kramer: Happiness. If I can tell you one word to describe the moment when I heard my name, it was overwhelming happiness. As a little girl, I always looked up to these star pitchers (one being Cat Osterman) and I even had my dreams set on Texas for college. When I realized that dream wasn't happening, it was to just play D1 softball; then my dream was not being done after my four years. I told my best friend my sophomore year that I knew four years weren't enough - I needed more. So in a way, I guess it was a dream of mine to be going up against the best of the best and earning an experience of a lifetime. It was hard; I had to work more than an average pitcher to perfect something that is impossible to perfect but I tried anyways! I'm not 6 foot tall; I'm a head shorter than most pitchers and I don't throw 65 (I am happy if I hit 63 most days), so I had to rely on things most pitchers don't have to rely on. I worked and worked and worked and it paid off. And I'm not from a major school; most people are confused when I say I went to IPFW for three years, then when I say I went to WKU, they always ask about the mascot! But it just goes to show that you don't have to be the typical pitcher from a big time school to live a lifeong dream. Luckily for me, our games [the day of the draft] got cancelled and Coach Tudor called me and said “Get ready, we are going to the draft”, so I went with two of my teammates, Coach Tudor, and my lifelong pitching coach Myndie Berka. When I heard my name called so high, I just teared up with happiness. It all paid off in that moment. It's a great memory and I'll be forever thankful for this opportunity. 

Justin’s World: Starting a pro career with an injury certainly isn’t ideal… talk to me about that, as well as working to overcome it to see the field for the first time as a professional.
Miranda Kramer: Definitely not an ideal situation. To be the [team’s] first draft pick and coming into the season with an injury, then being told you're out for 6 weeks was a hard pill to swallow. Before I left for Pennsylvania, I had an MRI and it came back with a 13cm stress reaction in my forearm right along the bone; the best way to deal with it was to rest it. In a way, sitting out helped me a bit to see how the NPF worked and to see the tendencies of these hitters. My mind is always running and thinking of ways to throw a batter off-balance and mess with their timing. Towards about week three, I began to throw overhand and do short spins. Then I got a little stir crazy and the week I came back, we sat down and had a meeting and Coach told me my first start will be against the Pride. I was nervous, absolutely, just thinking that I was fresh out of college, I took six weeks off, so I wasn’t as sharp as I was in regionals but I just did what I do. Spin the ball and make it move. It was an eventful first start; not only was it against the Pride and some of the best hitters in the league, but I had to enter a pitcher’s duel with Cat Osterman. Just to say that sounds crazy to me, but it was an awesome experience.  Not an ideal situation for me, but hopefully I can help the team get some wins and compete within the league. 

Justin’s World: What’s the biggest learning curve you encountered between college and the pros?
Miranda Kramer: A great day in college is a good day in the pros. You're going to get hit unless you're having a phenomenal day and the batters can't figure you out. You can't get away with leaving one over the plate here or it’s coming back at you without a doubt. And it's ok if someone has your number; you are facing the best hitters around and to come out of college softball. It's surreal sometimes to go up against these hitters and think “Oh wow, I was watching you on TV when I was little”. Seeing Natasha Watley walk into the batter’s box is a little intimidating, but it's the game I play now, so I treat her like any other batter I will face. Overall, it's a great experience and I have learned not to get frustrated; it’s how the game goes and right now, I'm facing the best so I have to bring my best every pitch. 

Justin’s World: Who is the toughest opponent you’ve faced?
Miranda Kramer: Hard Question. I would definitely have to say the Pride with Andrea Duran and Shelby Pendley. They hit everything. You can fool them once, but the next time they are sitting back, waiting for that pitch. They are hard outs every time we play and if they fly out or ground out, I have a sigh of relief. They can do some damage. Their whole lineup is always consistent and even when they aren't having a good day, they have someone who can pinch hit that is having a good day. 

Justin’s World: Talk to me about your future plans. Is playing in the NPF long-term something you’d like to do? Is coaching a field you’d like to pursue?

Miranda Kramer: I will play until someone takes the ball away from me or my body just won't allow it anymore. Whether that be in the NPF or somewhere else, I will always be willing to play. I love this game so much and it's brought me so much happiness with relationships and memories that I can't imagine a life without it just yet. I've always wanted to coach; I actually coached a high school team a summer or two ago and it was such a fun and great experience, I have so much to offer to the game- I just want to give players the chance at the dreams I've had. I love giving back to the game and helping players understand and learn more about the game. 

Justin’s World: Let’s finish things up with my favorite question. Say you were stranded on a deserted island for an undetermined period of time. You can take three things with you; anything tangible goes, except boats and phones. What would you take?
Miranda Kramer: I'm going to count my family as one item, including my pug Max. So I would bring my family because they are absolutely hilarious, my support system, and backbone. I would bring a never ending cooler of ice cold Dr. Pepper. If you know anything about me, it's my love for a good, cold, crisp Dr. Pep! The third thing I would bring would be my glove and a ball- they go together and my glove is my baby. Her name is Pearl and I can't imagine if she wasn't with me and I was stranded on an island, always thinking of the game.

And if I can't bring my family, I would substitute them for cheese. No offense mom and dad, but I love cheese. So if family isn't an option, I will go with an unlimited supply of Colby Jack cheese. 

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