As she recounts the most prolific night of her softball life from a metal bleacher seat, one truth quickly becomes glaring: Jessica “Jessie” Warren has faced a full count or two in her day.
“My first at-bat, I had three balls, two strikes, she threw me a rise ball, I hit it to center,” said Warren, reflecting on the first of three home runs she belted off Plant senior Miranda Clark nine nights ago in South Tampa.
“My second at-bat, I had a ball and two strikes. She threw me an inside screwball and I turned on it and hit it to leftfield.”
Inside screwball? Turned on it? Warren’s voice may be a 15-year-old’s, but the words seem more suited to a 15-year big leaguer. Or perhaps it fits the Alonso freshman just fine, considering she began playing organized baseball at age 3.
A 5-foot-4 shortstop and bona fide bat-and-ball junkie, Warren leads Hillsborough County with six home runs. Four have come off Clark, who has signed with Maryland-Baltimore County. Her third homer in that 6-5 loss? A shot to rightfield with a runner on first.
Which followed a strikeout on a dropped ball in her previous at-bat, she notes.
“I’ve hit home runs before,” said Warren, who had a homer and walk-off triple against Clark in a Feb. 18 win. “But off a Division I-signed pitcher, I was surprised myself.”
Little else surprises those who have observed her through the years.
A switch-hitter with a .500 average and 17 RBIs, Warren is described as a “pure, raw talent” by Ravens coach Robin Kopp, who had observed her in youth softball (her daughter played with Warren) and heard of her exploits in youth baseball.
The third of four children, Warren was hitting fastballs well before she hit kindergarten. At age 3, her mom, Ruth Ann Hines, signed her up in a baseball program in Wellswood, where she stayed roughly five years before moving to other local leagues.
“People always come up and tell me, ‘Oh, she was so much better than all the boys,’ ” Kopp said.
Warren played on a PONY state championship team in 2004, and was a member of the Tampa Blades 10-under AAU team that won a national age-group title. When she tried to re-join the Blades the following year, Hines says, the team denied her because of her gender.
Instead of playing hardball with the organization, the family switched to softball, where Warren’s potential occasionally seems boundless. Against Tampa Bay Tech this month, Kopp let Warren bat left-handed due to a sore wrist.
She went yard.
“I have one thing on my mind when I’m up to bat — eye level,” Warren said. “That’s something my coach told me to think about, and I think about that every at-bat, and it just goes from there.”