By Riordan Zentler, guest writer
If there’s anyone who lives and breathes softball, it’s Azusa Pacific’s Madison Hernandez. She claims her parents raised her playing sports since she could walk. Her teammates are her friends and her friends are her teammates.
As the season has progressed, Hernandez’s career has taken off to new heights. She hit eight home runs in one week and batted .600 another. Her coach, Carrie Webber, calls her the best catcher she’s ever coached, enjoyable to train and watch.
Even so, Hernandez’s strengths go beyond athleticism. Teammate and friend Narissa Garcia describes her as the glue who binds their team together.
“She helps us,” Garcia said. ”Not just offensively, but as a whole. She has a persona that sparks the team and keeps us up even when we’re losing.”
Regarding her leadership, Webber describes Hernandez as a less vocal leader: “more of a doer than a say-er.”
Raised in Upland, Hernandez decided to stay local and attend APU as the pieces fell into place on their own. Before Webber, the university’s softball team was led by Gina Oaks, who was also Hernandez’s hitting coach at age 8. Oaks later urged her to come to the school and make the team.
Her softball career at Azusa Pacific has been full of surprises. She had played alongside Garcia when they were 12, then they went their separate ways but unknowingly came together once again. Over the last few years, the two have developed a close friendship.
Hernandez considers camaraderie and friendship to be of prime importance. She is quick to cite her teammates in talking about what makes softball special for her.
“I’ve met a lot of people through softball, and I’ve come close to a lot of my friends through softball,” she said.
The Cougars’ roster this season is composed of 20 players. While this can make the team stronger, it may also become more difficult to coordinate.
“[It] can get kind of hard being together a lot,” Hernandez said. “You have to get used to different personalities to get along.”
However, the large team is going quite strong. Four of the players are batting in the .400s.
“That literally never happens,” Webber said. “In 15 years, I’ve only coached a handful of girls who bat in the .400s. Now I’ve got four girls doing that at once.”
Hernandez is hitting .432 — second-highest on the team. She’s recorded nine home runs and 36 runs batted in with a .818 slugging percentage, all marks that lead the team.
Beyond that, Garcia said Hernandez gives the team a reason to play by making everyone laugh and remember to enjoy themselves.
“She makes up weird cheers, sings and dances,” Garcia said. “When I throw a good pitch, she’ll jokingly exaggerate her catch to make me feel good about myself.”
Webber describes Hernandez as a very confident ballplayer.
“There’s a fine line between confidence and cockiness,” she said. “Sometimes she can straddle that line. Her game can back it up.”
Regardless, every softball player has moments of weakness, sometimes comical ones.
Hernandez remembers a time during her freshman year when she was competing against Cal State San Bernardino. While playing third base, she dove for the ball, but ended up diving over it, which rolled forcibly between her stomach and the field.
Softballs are not as soft as their name implies.
“I got winded and was making a lot of weird noises,” she said.
Even in her misadventures, Hernandez cheers up her fellow players.
“Maddie really brings this team together, whether she knows it or not,” Garcia said.