LAND O’ LAKES — Nelson Garcia says there is far more to life than softball.
The Sunlake High coach, in fact, says it all the time.
That’s why, for instance, every year the softball team has a “Pink Out” night, where everybody on the team, and pretty much everyone in the stands, wears pink to help bring awareness to breast cancer.
It’s also why the team might have a night to acknowledge veterans or, as in the case for a game last Thursday against visiting Clearwater, an “Autism Awareness” night.
“I want the girls to get involved and learn more about the world around them,” Garcia said. “I encourage them to come together and help a cause.”
Sunlake sophomore shortstop Jenna Lord heard Garcia loud and clear, and felt compelled to take advantage of the opportunity.
Lord’s brother, 9-year-old Carson, is autistic, and while Jenna has learned how much love and beauty Carson has brought to her life, she wanted others to learn as well.
So Lord and her teammates not only wore matching T-shirts, and raised money for an autistic charity, they also gathered around him on the mound and cheered while he threw out the game’s first pitch.
“I threw out the first pitch!” said a smiling Carson moments after he also gave high-fives to Sunlake and Clearwater players. “I had fun!”
Carson’s mom, Michele Lord, said this was a huge deal because Carson was nervous with everyone watching and he simply doesn’t feel comfortable just anywhere.
“He sees the softball and baseball fields as a fun, safe place because everybody is so warm and welcoming to him there (Carson’s brother, Tyler, is a pitcher for Sunlake’s baseball team),” Michele said. “It’s a beautiful thing.”
Besides learning more about things like autism, cancer and veterans, another upside is that in the process the softball team has become closer, stronger, happier, and, Nelson says, “even better on the field.”
“No doubt about it,” Jenna Lord said.
If wins and losses are any indication, it’s definitely a formula that works.
Heading into the week, the Sunlake softball team was 19-2 with its only losses to out-of-area teams Escambia and Marianna. The Seahawks also were ranked No. 8 in Class 7A.
At the plate, the team had a combined .431 batting average, including eight girls — Lord, Kendra Falby, Paige Maseda, Daisy McQuain, Bella Sanchez, Jenna Gabrielli, Shea Forgas and Alexis Duff — with more than 40 at bats and averages of .357 or higher.
Falby and Lord led the way with averages of .520 and .540 respectively and a combined 46 RBIs.
On the mound, the Seahawks feature three pitchers — Alyssa Cordoba, Morgan Boudreau and Mikayla Hoschak — with at least six starts and ERAs of 2.00 or lower.
“We feel that this year we can get farther in the postseason than we ever have,” Jenna Lord said in regards to the fact the Seahawks have never reached a state final four. “This year we believe.”