Deep down, Sarah Hudek knew the day would come.
And so did her father.
Still, the Bossier Parish Community College freshman pitcher put it off as long as she possibly could.
The first thing Hudek picked up as a child was a baseball. From her t-ball days through college, this young lady had played nothing but baseball, with the exception of one summer of softball as a 10-year-old.
But early on during his freshman season as a junior college relief pitcher, Hudek made the decision to switch over to softball for the rest of her college career.
“Before I went (to Bossier Parish CC), I was thinking about it, but I was scared to tell my dad,” said Hudek, whose No. 8-ranked UL Ragin’ Cajuns will wrap up the regular season at 6 p.m. Thursday at UL Monroe.
“He was one of the last people I told. I didn’t want to disappoint him, because baseball was something we definitely bonded over. That was our thing.”
As you might expect, former Major League relief pitcher John Hudek took the news better than she expected.
“Thanksgiving break, I talked to him about it,” Sarah Hudek said. “He was like, ‘I knew it was going to come to an end eventually.’”
While a female playing baseball was a new concept for many around her, it always seemed natural to Hudek. After her father’s six-year big league career ended in 1999, Hudek opened a batting cage facility in Sugarland, Texas.
UL coach Gerry Glasco doesn’t want or expect any Ragin’ Cajuns softball fan to lose a shred of passion for this softball program or its pursui…
“I grew up there,” Sarah Hudek remembered. “I’d go watch the other instructors give lessons. I would be mimicking what they were teaching the kids. I was just so lucky to be around all of those great athletes.”
Her father said it didn’t take very long to notice how special his daughter was on the diamond, primarily due to her uncanny maturity and understanding of the game.
As a 10-year-old, coach Hudek said he remembered angering an umpire to the point where he was called Sarah’s strikes balls. After the game at dinner, Sarah calmed her furious father down, ‘The umpire made me a better pitcher because he made me throw better strikes.’ ”
Growing up, she didn’t just watch baseball. She played attention. Hudek told of his daughter blocking the plate with one leg in a machine-pitch league.
“All I could tell the other coach was that she’s been watching too much Brad Ausmus,” Hudek laughed.
At times during their year and a half together, it’s probably felt like a tug-of-war for both of them.
Hudek said his daughter’s instincts at a young age on things like if an outfielder was going to catch a line drive were beyond her years. Also, the two would watch baseball games together and Sarah would comment on which pitch the pitcher should throw in certain situations … and be right.
“My dad was always supportive of it,” Hudek said. “He always encouraged me to play and never tried to push me into playing softball. I really appreciate it, because that could have made everything that happened a totally different story.”
And her dad figured out a way early to make her being a female an advantage.
“Every time someone would say something about me on the other team, I’d get mad and when I’d get mad, I’d pitch really good,” Hudek said.
So coach Hudek would tell her fibs about what the opposition was saying about her for extra motivation.
When Julie Rawls decided to make the move to Lafayette after two seasons in Natchitoches for the Northwestern State Demons, she had no way of …
“I didn’t find out about that until a couple of years ago,” Hudek laughed.
While her twin sister Haven was into dancing and cheerleader, Sarah always played baseball. From t-ball through high school, she played with friends she’d know her whole life.
“They always treated me like everybody else on the team,” Sarah Hudek said. “It was completely normal. I’m still close to a lot of my friends I grew up playing with. The bonds I made with them is what made the experience that much better. I’ve heard stories of girls having bad experiences with teammates and stuff like that, but I always had great experiences with teammates.”
The summer prior to her senior season of high school, Bossier Parish coach Aaron Vorachek visited with Hudek at a travel ball tournament and inquired about her plans.
She had made the All-Tournament team, but every other coached passed.
“They’d think it was cool, but said, ‘If I take that back to my boss, they’re going to think it’s a joke,’ ” Hudek recalled.
Except for Vorachek.
“He asked me, “ How serious are you about playing college baseball? ” she said. “I said, ‘That was my dream, my goal.’ He was like, ‘I’m interested in letting you do that.’ ”
Ironically, fulfilling that dream was the beginning of the end of her baseball career. The next summer, Hudek played on the USA national women’s baseball team.
“I didn’t realize that being teammates with girls would feel a lot more comfortable,” Hudek said.
There were a lot of new faces on the UL Ragin’ Cajuns softball team this season.
From there, she embarked on a new journey with all new teammates at Bossier Parish. They too, though, would be supportive. Oh, there was that one hitter who challenged Hudek in the spring – a challenge she met.
“One guy, he was like talking smack, just being funny,” Hudek said. “Just like, ‘I bet you won’t strike me out.’ He was going on and on about it. I struck him out and everybody freaked out. That kind of opened up the gate of being respected my them. They just me under their wing after that and made the experience much better.”
Still, experiencing the contrast of playing with female and males back-to-back opened Hudek’s eyes.
“I thought, ‘This is kind of different. I don’t feel like the elephant in the room anymore,’ “ Hudek said of playing on the women’s team. “I didn’t feel as much weight on my shoulders. I could kind of be my full self, even though my teammates didn’t make me feel that way. As much as they can be inclusive, you still kind of feel like that outsider.”
She had been given her chance of a lifetime and lived out her dream. And then she left baseball on her own terms.
“I’m happy how it ended,” Hudek said. “When I was little I wanted to be the first girl in the Major Leagues. Once you get older, you start being more realistic. Personally, I don’t think a girl will ever play in the Major Leagues.”
From there, she began her softball career at Texas A&M, where she hit .291 as a freshman and .363 with eight homers and 33 RBIs as a sophomore.
But no longer was Aggies’ hitting coach Gerry Glasco in College Station. He had become the new head coach at UL and things weren’t the same for her in Texas.
“He’s definitely someone I connected well with and I loved his passion on the field, that fire that he had,” Hudek said of Glasco. “I came on a visit here and I just knew this was it. It just felt right. The coaching staff is awesome. I had heard nothing but good things about this program. Being able to play two more years with coach Glasco was definitely a bonus.”
So far it’s worked out better than Hudek imagined. On the field, Hudek is a highlight-film waiting to happen in left field. At the plate, she’s hitting .355 with 10 homers, 38 RBIs and 10 stolen bases.
“Coming off a good year last year, I expected a good year if not better,” she said. “I try to look at the numbers during the regular season. It only really matters if I get hot in the postseason.”
Now a full-time leftfielder, Hudek is truthfully jealous of Summer Ellyson’s control in the circle as the pitcher.
“Just having that pressure and knowing the game is in your hands, that’s what I lived for,” Hudek said. “That adrenaline rush.”
That’s probably her only regret, however, since she arrived in Lafayette.
“The community here is amazing,” Hudek said. “I’ve been in awe of them the entire time. They somehow always seem to hit my the element of shock every time and just continue to surprise me with how great this program and this whole town is.”
UL at UL Monroe
Series: 6 p.m. Thursday; 6 p.m. Friday; Noon Saturday.
Site: ULM Softball Complex, Monroe.
Radio: KPEL 1420 AM.
Records: UL 46-4, 24-0; ULM 11-39, 7-16.
Ranking: UL No. 8.
RPI: UL No. 18; ULM No. 232.