Casey Stangel: Give it up for softball

Casey Stangel is a senior-to-be pitcher at Lake City High School (Coeur d’Alene, Idaho) who also plays for the SoCal Explosion. She was named the Gatorade State Player of the Year in Idaho in 2012 and has committed to play college softball at the University of Missouri. She will blog for ESPNHS throughout the 2012 season.

Being an athlete requires a lot of commitment and a lot of sacrifice. From a young age we are faced with decisions that can either make or break our careers. Whether it is choosing one sport to play or missing out on a birthday party to go to a tournament, you have to makes decisions for your future.

When I was younger I played soccer, and I absolutely loved it. I enjoyed that you could go one-on-one with someone and be physical to get the ball and score. I dig the aggressiveness of the game, and since my mom was a Division I soccer player at UCLA, it was in my blood.

When seventh grade hit, I was faced with a decision to either pursue my soccer career or my softball career. If I was going to fully commit myself and try to win national championships, I had to choose between the grass and the dirt. Well, I realized you have to run less if you hit the ball over the fence, so I went with softball. All joking aside, I knew softball was my passion, and it was what I was meant to do, so I put away the shin guards and bought some new bats. Quitting soccer was a hard thing for me, because I really loved it, but at the end of the day I would do it again. This was really the first big sacrifice I made for my softball career, and little did I know there was much more to come.

I have to believe that high school just isn’t the best years of your life. Are they some awesome learning years? Heck yes! But definitely far from the best. I say this because I have missed out on a lot of high school activities, and I am for sure not scarred for life.

When you are an athlete, you are on a much different path than other kids in school. You are in the small percentage of kids with a plan that you are working hard at every day, and when high school came around I faced my biggest bunch of sacrifices.

You will rarely catch me out past 10:30 p.m. with my friends because I have training in the morning. You will absolutely never find me at a party or hanging out with people who have a reputation for doing bad things. Friendships were a big sacrifice because even though some people are awesome and fun to be with, they are not on the same path as me. Beyond the friendships comes missing out on dances, or football games, or other school functions because of tournaments. I am now a senior in high school, and I have never been to a homecoming dance because we always have a tournament that weekend. It kind of stinks to miss out on these things, but at the end of the day I am missing out to pursue my dreams.

The day-to-day sacrifices are my favorite; they make you strong. Things like getting up early to train vs. sleeping in or having a salad vs. a huge McDonald’s burger. These commitments are the ones that separate the players from the athletes.

I love the feeling of being up in the early hours, grinding out a hard workout and mentally driving my body beyond pain, beyond reason, to the point of exhaustion. The mental and physical sacrifices that you have to make on a daily basis are why I love the sport, because you have to push your limits when nobody else is watching.

Even though you may not be at the rivalry football game, you might have a game-winning hit that you remember forever. If you leave a friend’s house at 10 vs. 1 a.m. because you have early training, don’t worry. Nothing good happens after midnight anyway. Sometimes you have to miss things that seem important in the moment, but at the end of the day they really are not.

Remember that when you graduate you will have memories of home runs and pushing yourself to your physical limits. You will gain so many life lessons when everyone else will just remember partying hard and freezing their butts off at a football game.

Sacrifice is hard, but when it’s for what you love, I promise you it is so absolutely worth it.

Read the previous installment of Casey's blog -- Burn the Ships! -- here.