Softball offers solace for do-it-all Cat

Dave Weatherwax/The Herald
Jasper senior Emily Beckman has started for the softball team since she was a freshman, having learned plenty along the way. The sport also offered comfort after Emily’s older sister, Abby, died of cancer a month before Emily turned 11.


By JOHN PATISHNOCK
Herald Sports Writer

Few aspects, if anything, ever stay the same in the life of a teenage girl.

Fashion. Relationships. Social plans. Pretty much everything is subject to change.

But when it comes to Emily Beckman, count on this: If she’s on the softball field, she’ll be talking.

Take Monday’s practice at the Wildcats’ home field, for example, when the Jasper senior and do-it-all star simultaneously pokes fun and points out instructions.  

“Oh, they’re so cheating,” Beckman coos as first baseman Olivia Burger and third baseman Paige Werner creep in from the corners during a bunting drill.

Minutes pass. A new drill begins. Jasper coach Matt Pryor bellows across the field, wanting to know where a runner should begin running from when leaving third base.

Beckman, of course, is the first to respond.

“Take off in foul, come back in fair,” she declares.

Her coach concurs, repeating the phrase. Pryor wants all the Wildcats to mirror this sequence in games.

Later on, Werner snares a line drive and looks to second. Beckman isn’t at the bag. Instead, she’s on her way over from second base, anticipating the throw. It never comes.

“Throw it and I’ll be there,” Beckman says to Werner. A few moments later, Werner snags another liner and this time throws to Beckman, who of course is there.

Trust. Emily’s earned it. Not just from her teammates but at home from four younger siblings, too. The latter arrived through tragic circumstances.

Emily’s older sister, Abby, died of cancer a month before Emily turned 11. Abby, who would be 23 today, has a bench commemorating her outside of Jasper High School.

“When she first got diagnosed, I was 7 or 8 and I didn’t really understand what cancer was,” Emily says. “I thought, ”˜OK, you take a pill, take some medicine, you’ll be fine. I don’t understand why everyone is crying.’”

As time went on, Emily understood better what was really happening.

“Whenever 9-year-olds are running around playing, I was in a hospital,” Emily says. “I had to grow up really fast.”

She still remembers stealing Britney Spears and ”˜N Sync CDs from Abby and sharing a bedroom with her bigger sister, though she doesn’t visit her tombstone because “I like to think about her alive, not dead.”

Now, she’s the big sister to four younger siblings: Derek Beckman (16), Cody Hanselman (8) and Tyler and Nicholas Hanselman (6-year-old twins). After Abby passed, Emily took Derek along to parties and whenever she’d visit friends to play video games. With a smile, she says she hoped he wouldn’t do anything to embarrass her, but that never stopped her from taking him along.

“It really forced us to get together and be really close,” Emily says.

She says her other siblings “think the world of me” and she makes time for them, including making sure they each knew every player on this past season’s Indiana University men’s basketball team.

“They memorized them,” Emily says. Because of her siblings’ affinity for her, Emily is mindful of her actions, especially with her additional role as a cadet teacher at Fifth Street School. People look up to her, just as she used to with Abby.

Over time, she learned to cope with Abby’s passing and acknowledged she isn’t touchy around death. Not surprisingly, she turned to the field in the immediate aftermath of losing her sister.

Within months of Abby dying, Emily first started playing softball, competing on a travel team. There, she wasn’t bombarded with questions about Abby. People didn’t feel sorry for her. She was treated just like everyone else, and more than anything, that’s what she wanted.

“When I was on the field, it was a totally different thing,” Emily says. “I loved it because I didn’t have to think about anything. All I had to think about was the ball coming to me, and throwing and hitting and that’s it.”

For the Wildcats, she’s been starting since she was a freshman: Left field, second base, catcher and shortstop have been her positions, though she says she’s able to give advice to all of her teammates, no matter where they play. Two years ago, the Wildcats raised $1,750 that they donated to Memorial Hospital for cancer research and wore different-colored ribbons during a game to represent different types of cancer. Even though gold represents childhood cancer, Emily wore a purple ribbon. The reason? Purple was the color Abby adored, her favorite.

Emily’s impact on the field is clear. Jasper dropped its first game of the year to McCutcheon, a squad that impressed Pryor. For the four freshmen who start for the Wildcats, it was an abrupt introduction. So Emily took a moment and talked to them, explaining to them they need to act like they belong in the lineup.

“They haven’t really been on this stage yet; sometimes the word ”˜varsity’ kind of gets them a little shaky,” Emily says. “I know at first whenever I started playing varsity my freshman year, I was a little shaky at first.”

“She’s so focused on everything she does, you can’t help but get focused,” says Burger, a freshman.

Since then, the Wildcats have won six of their last eight games, with Burger, Werner and fellow freshmen Nicolette Eckert and Erin Terwiske playing pivotal roles.

“There’s just so many different ways in which you’re thankful to have a player like her, on the field, off the field,” Pryor says. “You just can’t ask for a better play to be the core of your team.”

Emily hopes to continue her career as a preferred walk-on at IUPUI, where she’ll study political science and possibly attend law school afterward. Emily went back and forth on whether she wanted to devote the time needed to her academics and the field, but the decision became much clearer as she thought about giving up the place where she’s always felt more comfortable.

In explaining her thought process, Emily looks onto the Cats’ home field, now empty with the players gone. It’s a place that’s meant more to Emily than maybe any other player in recent history.

“I don’t know what I would do without it,” she says of playing softball. “Literally, I’d be lost without it.”

Contact John Patishnock at jpatishnock@dcherald.com.




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