Casey Stangel: Join me on Fearless Field

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 2012and has committed to play college softball at the University of Missouri. She will blog for ESPNHS throughout the 2012 season.

I am a person who likes to be OK all the time. I never want anyone to see that I am struggling, upset, hurting or anything of the sort. I am a grinder, and I will just keep going and going no matter what until I am done. This is definitely both a strength and a weakness. It is a strength because I will always give my best effort all the time no matter what and keep fighting until the end. On the other hand, it is a huge weakness because I don’t want to admit that I am going through hard things.

Take last year’s high school softball season. Living in my small town, everybody knew who I was. Our team went undefeated the year before, I committed to Missouri and I was a Gatorade Player of the Year. I had some big accolades behind my name, which brought some big expectations for my season. Everyone was really watching now, and I was on the stage.

The funny thing is, I still felt like I had something to prove.

Never play with the mindset that you have to prove yourself as a player, because then you are just playing with fear. I would go into every game tight, with unrealistic expectations. If one person got a hit, I was angry, and that isn’t right because hits are going to happen. I felt that everyone expected me to have a perfect game every time, and go 4 for 4.

I needed to relax and just play, and if I would have, those stats were possible. But not if I was out there trying to do it.

It should not matter what anyone but you thinks about your performance. If you know that you gave all the effort you had, and had a great attitude through it all, then there is no more you can ask for. If you are preparing yourself off the field correctly, and working harder than everyone else, then you have nothing to worry about.

As newspaper reporters asked me if I was worried about high expectations, I said absolutely not. I told them that I wouldn’t buy into everyone else’s expectations, and I would just go play. But the truth of the matter is I did buy into it, and I didn’t just go play. I was not intentionally lying to these people, but remember I have the “nothing will ever bring me down” attitude, so I couldn’t even admit to myself that I had a problem until after the season was over and I analyzed it.

Learn from me when I say that you will never enjoy yourself if you are caught up in trying to impress everyone and play with unrealistic expectations.

There were very few games that I truly had fun and played with joy because all I wanted to do was strike everyone out and say “See, look what I can do!” That is not what the game is about. It is about playing with love, and playing with passion and seeking victory through hard work.

My team lost the state championship game, and the second it was over I had a sense of relief. Everyone knew I wasn’t perfect that day, and it was OK. It didn’t make me a worse player, and it didn’t mean I didn’t work harder than everyone else; I just didn’t win that one.

As I look ahead to my senior year, I have one focus for the entire season. To win a state championship? No. I have learned that winning is out of my control, but my effort is not. My goal for the year is to be a fierce competitor through every second of the games. To not worry about the scoreboard, or what the paper will say or what people will say about me. That stuff is out of my control. All I want to do is to compete with everything I have, and come at people full-force saying, “Here I am, try to stop me.” With that attitude, everything I wanted so badly the year before will come naturally.

So to all of you amazing, talented athletes reading this, forget the expectations and play. Don’t worry about the outcome, play in the moment and play with a strong competitive nature. People are going to put you down if you win every game, and they will do the same when you lose. But that really doesn’t matter.

When you are playing for expectations instead of playing with passion, realize it and tell yourself to stop. I know that I will, and I hope you will, too.

Trust me when I say the game is so much better when you are playing on a fearless field.

Read the previous installment of Casey's blog -- on her approach after making her college decision -- here.