Kate Condon has had to go from cranking home runs to cranking out tunes for the Billerica High School softball team.
After suffering a knee injury last fall, the senior captain underwent surgery, and the six-month recovery will keep her out of her final season.
“I was heartbroken,” she said. “I was so sad that I couldn’t play my senior year. It was just devastating.”
But at 9 o’clock on a cold and windy Tuesday morning, the fourth day of April vacation, Condon was out on the field at Marshall Middle School, shoveling dirt onto the infield while her teammates warmed up for practice.
It’s one of the many tasks the former infielder has undertaken this year, along with hitting ground balls to players, assisting them with their swings, and supervising the team’s warmup music.
“I’m the DJ,” she said with a laugh. “That’s the most important part.”
Condon suffered her season-ending injury, a torn meniscus, while practicing last October, but it hasn’t stopped her from being a part of the softball squad. She has morphed into an assistant coach of sorts, a role she seems dedicated to.
“I care for everyone like they’re my own blood,’’ she said of her teammates. “I love them all. They definitely have to step up and meet my expectations.”
She’s been called the mother of the team by head coach Pat Higgins for her assistance in the field and encouragement in the dugout, and the players have embraced her transition from player to informal coach.
“I think she didn’t know exactly what would happen as far as taking on that role, not being the person on the field,” Higgins said. “I think the kids have such respect for her that she saw ‘You know what, I can be just as important here.’
“I think they saw someone who’s willing to switch hats, not feel bad for themselves or say ‘It’s too cold today I’m not coming.’ ” Higgins said.
Condon’s injury was the second tough break for Billerica in as many seasons. Captain Cassidy Peters tore her ACL twisting her knee during pre-season last year and missed every game.
She is back for her final year as the starting center fielder.
“I have to get back into the swing of things,’’ said Peters, “and I have to know that my body doesn’t work the same way it did before I got injured.”
She said she’ll convey that reality to Condon when she gets back to playing the game.
“I felt for her in the same way that I injured myself last year,” Peters said. “I know how it feels.’’
When Higgins got the call from Condon with the news of season-ending surgery, she couldn’t believe it had happened again.
“It was like ‘Oh, snakebitten again, this is crazy.’ It rips your heart out because of course, right away, you feel for the kid, and then you start to see the big picture, and it’s like wow, this is going to be a big replacement.”
Condon was a force last year. Playing mostly first base and batting in the middle of the lineup, she helped lead Billerica to a 12-8 regular season record and a surprise run all the way to the MIAA Division 1 North final, which Newton North won by a run.
Condon, who will be taking her game to UMass-Dartmouth next year, isn’t heading south just yet. She’s invested her time and energy instead in helping to groom her replacement at first base, junior Jacqui Schwalm, as well as other young players, in hopes they can make another playoff run.
“It’d be wonderful to get back there,” Higgins said of the Division 1 North final. “But the process to get there might be a little different. It’s been a learning curve early.”
Acclimating to life with Condon on the field has had its speed bumps. Billerica lost its first two games of the season, 5-1 to Chelmsford April 12 and 4-1 to Andover the next day. But Billerica aced the annual Krystle Campbell Tournament, topping Arlington Catholic, 3-2, in the semifinals April 15. They’ll play for the tourney championship April 22 against Medford.
Senior catcher Katherine Iozzo has been the one team captain who hasn’t suffered any significant injuries during her athletic career.
She sees each captain’s role as a different responsibility. She calls herself as “loud infielder,” Peters a “loud outfielder,” and Condon as “loud from the dugout.”
“Kate’s always the one on the bench cheering as loud as she can and she’s always encouraging all of us to push ourselves,” Iozzo said. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything negative come out of her mouth.”
The three have been playing softball together for over ten years. For their final season together, however, they won’t all be out on the field.
“I felt really bad because I’ve been playing with these girls since I was six years old,” Iozzo said. “We’ve been on the field together for a long time, so I’m sad all three of us can’t play together our senior year.”
Matt Case can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.