By ANDREW WILLIAMS
In his 1921 work Back to Methusela, Nobel Prize-winning playwright George Bernard Shaw famously wrote: “You see things; and you say ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say ‘Why not?'”
More than 90 years later, those words embody the spirit of Erica Zielinski as she works toward a dream of her own.
The 32-year-old Findlay resident is one of 40 women who will travel to Malibu, California and take place in trials for the USA Baseball Women’s National Team from August 18-21 at Pepperdine University.
Following the completion of the trials, 20 players will be selected for the final roster that will travel to Miyazaki, Japan to represent the U.S. in the WBSC Women’s Baseball World Cup to be held September 1-7.
“Baseball was my first love,” Zielinski said. “I just played with the boys. I didn’t play softball. I never liked softball, I don’t know why.”
Her lack of interest in softball forced her away from the game in the sixth grade and led her to focus on a career in basketball. She starred on the hardwood at Eastlake North High School, located about 18 miles northeast of Cleveland, before attending Western Illinois University where she was a four-year letterwinner on the Bulldogs’ women’s basketball team.
During her time at Western Illinois from 2000-04, Zielinski made 105 starts and still ranks second on the all-time steals list with 260 in her career.
She relocated to the Findlay area in 2008 while she was working as an emergency veterinary technician in Toledo. Her friend had a place for her to stay and she’s been around ever since.
It wasn’t until 2011 that she started playing baseball again, at the insistence of her father who participates in men’s leagues in Alabama where he and Zielinski’s mother reside.
Despite a 17-year hiatus from competitive baseball, Zielinski said she had no trouble getting back into the swing of things.
“I grew up, that’s all I did was baseball, baseball, baseball,” she said. “So before I even developed my basketball skills I knew how to hit a baseball. I suppose it’s like riding a bike. It’s all I did. It’s all I wanted to do as a kid was play baseball.
“I guess if you know how to swing a bat you’ll always know how to swing a bat. I just forgot the good feeling of just striking the ball. Swinging the bat never was a problem.”
While many people who compete for a roster spot on one of the U.S. national sports teams train for years and have that specific goal in mind for an extended period of time, Zielinski admitted she never had any intention of trying out for the team. After returning from a baseball tournament in Alabama, she looked up the information online and made the decision to go for it.
“It really was on a whim,” she said. “I sat on the couch and I looked up the information and I’m like, ‘why not?’ It happened to be in Carey, North Carolina and one of my good friends lives out there. So I visited a friend and tried out for a day.”
There was only 10 days between when Zielinski returned to Ohio from the tournament in Alabama and when the tryout took place June 7 in North Carolina. With little time to prepare and having not participated in any type of tryout in a number of years, Zielinski was understandably anxious about the experience.
“I was nervous. I guess I didn’t really realize how nervous I was until I got there,” she said. “It was a little bit harder on me than I expected. My stomach was turning for hours, for awhile. A lot of those girls had tried out before so they knew what was coming. So it was a little bit nervewracking but I just let that go and I just relaxed and just played the game.”
The prospective players were tested on all facets of the game, from running to throwing, fielding on the infield and in the outfield, as well as hitting and pitching.
Zielinski was surprised to find that some of the other girls trying out were 16, 17 and 18 years old. While keeping up with girls half her age wasn’t an easy task, she wasn’t intimidated by the challenge and approached it as she does many other things in her life.
“I guess I always have a little chip on my shoulder about anything,” she said. “I was always smaller than everybody else so playing basketball I always had something to prove. So I think I just had that mentality, all these young girls aren’t going to get the best of me. I don’t care if I can’t walk an hour after this. I’m still going to beat them in everything. So I think that’s just the mentality I just took into it.”
The tryout in North Carolina was the first of three conducted across the country, so it took several weeks before she received notification that she had been selected to attend the trials in California in August. The time spent waiting to hear about her baseball fate was uneasy, she said. But when she finally found out she had been chosen, it was an unbelievable feeling.
“It was pretty rewarding,” Zielinski said. “I have accomplished a lot in my life but I’ve not ever had the opportunity to put USA across my chest and that’s a dream come true. We’re not there yet, we’re only halfway there. But certainly to know that I can hang with maybe somebody half my age is nice at times.”
Zielinski is spending the weeks leading up to the next tryout preparing as much as possible. She has bumped up her cardio training regimen and tries to take live batting practice in the cage at least twice a week.
Even though she has only been chasing this particular goal for a little more than a month now, being this close to a lifelong dream is certainly enough to push her to give everything she has.
“It’s been kind of a whirlwind,” she said. “It’s a little nervewracking I suppose. I don’t know if I had expectations. I was just going to go out there and see what happens and I’m going to continue to do that. I’m 32 and if I don’t make the team, then I’m OK with that I think.”
While she doesn’t like to think too much about what could happen, good or bad, she can’t deny the satisfaction that would come with being a member of the U.S. national team.
“That would be more than a dream come true to me,” Zielinski said. “I’m pretty sure if I made the team, there would be tears for awhile. It’s just that pride that everybody should have for wearing the red, white and blue. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do.”
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