When former Portland High School softball player Mackenzie Fitzgerald left the Gulf Shores ballpark in March of 2020, little did she know that would be the last game played for a few months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fitzgerald did play last fall with the Tennessee MOJO team that won the Triple Crown national championship before suiting up for the Tennessee Tech University softball squad that finished 19-30 this spring.
The college sophomore recently reflected on the past year and the thrill of being back on the softball diamond.
“I can’t even begin to explain how ready I was to get back on the softball field,” Fitzgerald said. “I remember leaving Gulf Shores Park (where the Portland High softball team was playing in a tournament last March) and thinking COVID would be all over within two weeks and it was just a hoax. Man, was I wrong. I was pretty torn up about the whole situation for a while, because softball was basically my way of life for as long as I can remember, and it got instantly taken away.”
Fitzgerald did make a big impression on her return to the softball diamond in her first season at with the Golden Eagles. The sophomore played in 49 games and recorded a homer along with driving in 20 runs, scoring 22 runs and swiping 20 bases.
“I definitely felt like I could have done a lot better,” Fitzgerald said. “It was a huge adjustment, but I have learned from it and look forward to seeing how I improve next season.”
As with most freshmen, Fitzgerald noticed the difference in the speed of the game at the college level.
“You are playing the best of the best and everyone is there and ready to compete every time they step on the field,” Fitzgerald said. “Yes, the speed of the game changed tremendously.”
Time management is another aspect of a first-year college students’ life that changes. However, Fitzgerald felt that she had plenty of experience in that area.
“I feel like it was an easy transition for me,” Fitzgerald said. “I was already used to having good time management skills due to playing travel ball and high-school ball while also having a job and managing my school work in high school. The amount of practice and weights was a transition. I wasn’t used to getting up at 4:30 a.m. and not getting to bed until 10 at night.”
Fitzgerald had several highlights from her freshmen season at Tech. Fitzgerald had a record number of broken belts in a season and was second in the Ohio Valley Conference for stolen bases.
Among her most memorable moments was hitting her first collegiate home run against Austin Peay State University. Trailing 6-3, a three-run shot by Fitzgerald allowed the Golden Eagles to tie the score at 6-6 in the fourth inning.
“I was pretty happy with my freshman season, Fitzgerald said. “It was everything I could have ever asked for, and I had so much fun.
“I am looking for things to be a little more normal this season. COVID really changed everything at the university and sports.”
Fitzgerald had some words of wisdom for high schoolers that are ready to take the next step to college whether they play sports or not.
“I would just encourage everyone to follow your heart and do what you want to do in life, no matter what anyone thinks,” Fitzgerald said. “You can do whatever you put your mind to.”
A special moment for Fitzgerald this spring occurred at her home field in Portland as the 2020 softball seniors were recognized in front of Lady Panther fans. The group missed that special night a year ago when the season was canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic after one week of play.
“It gave me a whirlwind of emotions,” Fitzgerald said. “It brought back the tears from COVID completely destroying our season, but it also opened my eyes to why I truly love this in the first place.
“It was amazing to see the love and support from our Lady Panther fans, and it’s a moment I will never forget.”