TAMPA — For University of Tampa junior softball player Sahrina Cortes, athletics have always been a family affair.
When she's struggling, when her swing doesn't feel right, she consults with her father, Juan, a long-time baseball and softball instructor who has coached her from the beginning.
When she needs advice or just wants to commiserate, she makes the daily call to her younger brother, Carlos, a freshman outfielder at the University of South Carolina who was rated one of the nation's top 25 high school players last season.
"Going to the ballpark, practicing, playing games, the whole lifestyle of it, it's pretty much all I've ever known," Cortes said.
And it's pretty much all she has ever wanted, too.
"I never get tired of softball — never, never, never," said Cortes, who led the Spartans in batting last season (.341) and is hitting .333 in her first 10 games. "At some point a few years ago, I remember thinking about what I wanted to study, about whether I would ever need to concentrate just on academics.
"I couldn't imagine it. I can't picture not being an athlete. One day, I know it's going to happen. Right now, I don't even want to think about it. I want to soak in every last second and enjoy this time of my life."
Cortes, UT's leadoff batter and centerfielder, is majoring in allied health, a pre-med track that she hopes to parlay into a master's degree and a career as a physician's assistant. Academics are demanding. But so is her softball career.
"Sahrina does a lot of things nobody ever sees," UT softball coach Leslie Kanter said. "She's a very hard worker academically. That never takes a back seat and she's an excellent student.
"But after her academic work is done, it's not uncommon for her to shift back to softball and get some extra hitting work in, even if it's 2 in the morning. Our security guards know her pretty well."
Cortes said she had an instant passion for softball. That has never changed.
"I remember playing in my first AAU tournament, 8-and-under, and that was at a time when softball was just blowing up (in popularity)," Cortes said. "This wasn't just a rec league. This was serious stuff, five games in one day, exhausting, challenging. …
"It became the focus of my weekends and it became my life. It's not for everyone. But I realized that it was for me."
Cortes developed a game — and an attitude — that made her a favorite of coaches and teammates. She's a hard worker, but also a supporter and a student of the game. She's fast and fundamentally sound.
Cortes' brother, who opted for college after being drafted in last year's 20th round by the New York Mets, displays the same passion for his sport.
"Carlos is my best friend and I'm so grateful we have an incredibly good relationship," Cortes said. "We've never pulled apart, even during the adolescent years when things could get a little moody. We have always trained with each other and pushed each other."
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Cortes, from Lake Howell High School, avidly follows her brother's career. She will attend his games whenever possible. And when he needs to talk, whether it's about baseball or academics, she's always a phone call away.
"He's very protective of me and wants to know about my relationships," she said. "I am the same way with him. He has even told other girls, 'If my sister doesn't like you, I don't know if this can work out.' So it's like that. We look after each other."
Cortes said she's proud of her brother's path, along with his maturity of choosing to develop in college instead of jumping into professional baseball. She's excited about the possibilities.
At the same time, in a playful manner, she gets satisfaction out of her own standout performances when they take family honors on a given weekend.
"I think it's a very friendly family relationship, but one where they constantly push each other …," Kanter said.
"She knows how good he is and how successful he is in the baseball world. She wants the same things for herself in softball. They drive each other. I think they both do everything they can to live up to the name their father has given them."