The average collegiate softball player draws a walk every eight at-bats. The average leadoff hitter walks even more frequently.
Natalie Hernandez is not average. In any sense of the word.
Exactly 167 times during the regular season, Hernandez stepped into the batter's box for the University of Illinois-Chicago. Not once -- not even as the team's leadoff hitter for part of the year -- did the junior walk to first base.
This startling fact is not due to a lack of offensive talent, of which she has plenty. Hernandez, a shortstop, led the Flames in hitting this season (.377) and was the only Horizon League hitter to earn player of the week honors more than once. So what explains her off-the-charts aggressiveness?
In February 2011, during Hernandez's freshman year, UIC arrived in Las Vegas for its first tournament of the season, and Hernandez was released from the team to go to dinner with her family at In-N-Out Burger. That's when her parents dropped the bomb on her: Mom had stage 4 breast cancer that had metastasized to her liver and bones.
The ensuing months were brutal. Hernandez battled through her freshman season, her mind constantly wandering back to her home in Southern California, where Bonnie, her mom, battled through aggressive chemotherapy, enduring treatment three to four times a week for more than two months.