Bailey Stevens breaks home run record

341
Bailey Stevens (senior) practices her swing during practice at Occidental College. Friday, Mar. 8, 2019. Nanuka Jorjadze/The Occidental

For Bailey Stevens (senior), hitting home runs is a skill that has taken a lifetime of practice. Starting her softball career in the Elk Grove recreational league at just 4 years old, Stevens fell in love with the sport and realized early on that she had a natural knack for hitting the ball — hard. Many summers spent on the field and thousands of hours perfecting her craft has culminated in a record breaking career. Stevens is up to 19 home runs, the most of any softball player ever at Occidental.

Stevens attributes her fundamentals to the coaching of Mike Mello, who helped her transition from her recreation league to an elite club in Sacramento. While coach Mello worked with Stevens to elevate her game, her work ethic and commitment was a skill he didn’t need to teach.

“Bailey is one of the hardest working kids,” Mello said. “She was always the first girl on the field and the last girl off. On many occasions, she would ask if we could put in extra work after practice. To this day, when she’s on summer break she will call me to get in some work to prepare for the next season.”

At Occidental, Stevens attributes much of her success on the field to her time spent off it.

“I put a lot of work in the weight room,” Stevens said. “It starts with a lot of offseason training as well as in-season training. I think it is really important to push yourself and keep on building so when you do get into those games, hitting the ball hard and far should be easy.”

For Stevens, getting ready to compete is a process that starts long before game time. Stevens, like many athletes, has pregame rituals that, according to her, are a key to her success.

“My pregame routine starts with the night before. I am very superstitious, so this is where it all comes into play. I sleep with the same order of blankets every night before a game. I wake up, shower and then put on my uniform in a very particular order. In the morning, I only eat a granola bar and an apple. From there, I read a book called The Mental Game of Baseball before every game. Then, Alexis (senior) does my hair, she’s the only person who can braid it and I have to wear the same bow. When I am up to bat, I have to draw a seven in the dirt before I hit,” Stevens said.

Although the rituals may be an important part of the process for Stevens, head coach Alison Haehnel believes that Stevens’s success on the field comes from her raw talent.

“When we recruited her, we saw her as someone who could come in and make an immediate impact,” Haehnel said. “Someone who, with one swing, could change a ball game.”

Bailey Stevens (senior) warms up during softball practice at Occidental College. Friday, Mar. 8, 2019. Nanuka Jorjadze/The Occidental

In addition to her ability to hit home runs, Haehnel cited her enthusiasm and vocal leadership as an instrumental part of Stevens’ role on the team.

“Bailey’s vocal leadership has made a difference since her very first day on campus,” Haehnel said. “But this year in particular, she has found a way to encourage her teammates to be more vocal. Bailey has been a very positive leader, and she has done a very good job of bringing in our younger players and getting them on the same page.”

According to teammate Natalie Glover (senior), it is Stevens’ desire to compete and her work ethic that makes her such a dominant player. Glover explained that, in addition to her dedication, Stevens constantly uplifts others and remains positive no matter the score.

“Her desire to play hard makes her such a dominant hitter,” Glover said. “I mean, a record of 19 home runs … with the season just starting? That’s something special. She has a great approach up at bat. Her focus lets her see the ball all the way through contact. When she gets a hold of the ball, well it’s over.”

According to Haehnel, Stevens’ commitment to her individual development as a player is unmatched.

“Bailey has spent a lot of time on her own learning the game, studying her swing,” Haehnel said. “She is very opinionated about her mechanics, and she has a clear understanding of what she should and shouldn’t do. She has become a much more flexible, malleable player this year.”

Stevens explained that to her, happiness is hitting a home run at Bell Field. Although many teams will not pitch to her, which Haehnel explained is due to her celebrity in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC), connecting with the ball when it finally comes around is a feeling that Stevens’ describes as unparalleled.

“When I hear the ball come off the bat … well, it is the reason that I keep playing,” Stevens said.