Field of Dreams
Feb. 5, 2010
By Larry Watts
It was one month into her first winter in Ann Arbor, Mich., when Marissa Young made the call to her parents back at her home in Santa Ana, Calif. Enough of this cold, snow and ice, she wanted to come home.
The message back was basically, “You made your bed. Now you have to sleep in it.’’
That was back in 1999, when Young came to Michigan to play softball. Just over 10 years later, other than brief stops in Italy and Texas, she still makes her home in Ann Arbor.
Since graduating from Michigan in 2003, Young has played professional softball, sold real estate and worked for a mortgage company. Now she is entering her second season of coaching softball at Concordia University in Ann Arbor, only four miles away from the diamond where she established herself as one of the top pitchers in Wolverine history.
“My parents are still shaking their heads,’’ Young says with a laugh. “They tell me, ‘You were on a path to law school and you’re doing what? What has gotten into you?’ But I’ve been doing this (softball) for so long that I think they are finally convinced this is what I want to do.’’
When she was being recruited to play softball out of Mater Dei High School, Young had Michigan on her list of possible schools, but it was not at the top. However, that all changed just before her junior year when she took a trip with her family to watch her sister play in a national softball tournament in Novi, Mich., which is less than a half-hour from Ann Arbor.
“I called up Hutch (Michigan head coach Carol Hutchins) and told her I was going to be in town and asked if I could come by for a visit,’’ Young says. “I think when we had talked previously and I had told her I was looking at schools closer to home, like Stanford and Washington, she had thought I was a lost cause. I think she was a little baffled when I called her to arrange a visit.
“After meeting with her and her staff, I thought she was one of those coaches where what I saw, I was going to get. She wasn’t selling me anything. She was very genuine, but I knew she was going to be tough on me, and those are the kinds of coaches I really responded to.’’
At first glance, the slender 5-foot-6 Young didn’t have the appearance of what would become one of the top pitchers in Big Ten history. However, she attributes her early success to a strong work ethic instilled in her by her father.
“My father started off coaching my uncle Gerald,’’ she says.
Her uncle later became the first player born in Honduras to play Major League Baseball when he broke in with the Houston Astros in 1987.
“When I started softball, my dad took on the job of coaching me, and he’s still coaching to this day,’’ she says. “I spent a lot of time in the weight room getting stronger.’’
That hard work paid off right away when Young posted an 18-4 record with a 1.14 ERA as a freshman. Her ERA of 0.38 in Big Ten games ranked first in the conference. In addition, she was named a third-team All-American, while also collecting second-team All-Big Ten honors.
She followed with a 21-8 record as a sophomore and set a school record with 185 strikeouts. Her 1.06 ERA included eight complete-game shutouts, and she was a second-team All-Big Ten selection at pitcher again.
She not only attained first-team All-Conference honors as a junior; she was also selected as the Big Ten’s Pitcher of the Year after posting a 27-8 record. Recording an ERA of 1.03, that year also included a single-season strikeout record (335), and she became the Wolverines’ career leader with 669 K’s.
That season also marked a significant turnaround at the plate. Young, who played first base when not pitching, was coming off a .268 batting average as a sophomore. She connected for a .304 average with five home runs and 39 RBI during her junior year.
“I had a good hitting coach in high school, but I was having a tough time making the jump to college pitching,’’ she says. “They (the coaches at Michigan) worked a ton on my mental game, but I don’t think anything really clicked in until I matured. Besides, I had to get rid of that myth that pitchers couldn’t do anything else but pitch.’’
Her junior season was only a hint of what was to come. The following year, Young batted .299 while crushing 13 home runs and carrying a slugging percentage of .611. In the circle, she was 22-4 with 259 strikeouts and was named the Big Ten’s Player of the Year. She was also named second-team All-America as a utility player.
“When I tell my story to my players (at Concordia), I always remind them that you have to go after it from Day 1,’’ she says. “I feel like I coasted through my freshman and sophomore years. It wasn’t until my junior year, when people started talking about records, that I made a real push. Most of those records have since been broken, but if I thought they were achievable from Day 1, it would be interesting to see what a difference it would have made.’’
After receiving her degree in criminal justice, Young headed over to Italy to join a professional softball team. However, the stay only lasted slightly over a month.
“I was supposed to be there three months,’’ she says. “It wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be with the living conditions, and it was very hard to communicate with my teammates. So, I came back to Michigan and got a job giving lessons at the Michigan Sports Academy (in Ypsilanti).’’
In 2004, she joined the Texas Thunder for its first season in the National Professional Fastpitch league. The Thunder, who now makes their home in Rockford, Ill., was based in Houston at the time.
“It was a wonderful experience and I got a chance to reunite with a lot of my friends I had grown up with and who had gone on to different schools,’’ she says. “I was living a life where the hardest thing I had to do was get up in the morning and go to the gym, which wasn’t bad at all. But I stopped working as hard as I needed and I didn’t have the speed I had in college because I kind of took things for granted.’’
Young’s plans to join a tour team, the Highland Diamonds, in Colorado the following season had to be canceled when she found out she was pregnant with her first child. Young then moved back to Ann Arbor, where she got her realtor’s license and returned to working at the Michigan Sports Academy. She would later work for a mortgage company.
It was through her work at the sports academy that Young found out Concordia University, a Lutheran school with approximately 400 undergraduates, needed a new head softball coach. She was hired in October of 2008, and quickly found out that although her alma mater was only four miles away, the two schools were hundreds of miles apart in many other ways.
“When they hired me, the athletic director introduced me to three players,’’ she says. “They turned out to be the only ones here who had stayed from the previous coach. I had thought the rest of the girls were in class.
“I knew there were a few freshmen interested in playing, but I immediately sent out a mass e-mail to anyone who was playing basketball, volleyball or soccer and told them if they had any softball experience to come out for softball. We won 10 games with those players my first year. I know a record of 10-35 sounds terrible, but those who knew what we had were surprised.’’
It wasn’t as if Young approached the job with her eyes shut. For the most part, she knew what she was getting into and had consulted with her former mentor, Michigan coach Hutchins.
“I learned a ton from her, and I have a ton of respect for her,’’ she says. “Even after graduating, we stayed close, and she has invited me over for tailgates. When I was offered this job, I consulted with her because she is such a great resource for me. Now that I am coaching, I have so much respect for her with everything she had to go through.’’
But Concordia is still a different world from what she experienced at Michigan. Young only has one assistant coach, and that coach is pregnant and recently took on a new job as a police dispatcher in Detroit.
“I haven’t seen her a lot, and she’s due at the end of January, so this year has really been a challenge,’’ she says. “I didn’t realize how spoiled I was at Michigan, where everything was just handed to us.
“Here at Concordia, I have to do everything else in addition to coaching. That includes dragging the field and fund-raising. Before the games, I’m out there picking clover leafs and lining the field. They told me I would have to wear many hats, but until you’re actually out there juggling everything from recruiting, taking care of your players and taking care of the field, you really don’t think about it.
“Carol (Hutchins) warned me before I took the job that there would be things in a small program I would have to do that I normally wouldn’t think of, but I had to be prepared to take them on,’’ she added. “It is a learning opportunity, and with every challenge now I feel I can take on anything. I’m glad I’ve had this opportunity.’’
This juggling act also includes taking care of two daughters, now 4 and 2½, working clinics in Detroit as well at the academy, and studying for her master’s degree in, of all things, organizational leadership and administration.
“My house is a wreck,’’ Young, now 29, says with a laugh. “That’s the one thing I don’t work hard in.’’
She finds her work at softball clinics in Detroit especially satisfying.
“Many of these girls don’t have means, and I’m trying to give them hope and show them there are opportunities if they work hard,’’ she says. “I’m just trying to be one person who gets through and makes an impact.’’
Because her children are so young, Young has no immediate desire to use Concordia as a stepping stone to a Division I program.
“(It would be) too much time on the road for games and recruiting,’’ she says.
However, she does have a vision of someday taking all the work she has put in at the academy and at Concordia to open her own indoor field.
“My own field of dreams,’’ she says. “I could have a lot of kids come in there to play, have clinics and practice. I’d have computers so they could come in and do their homework when they’re not playing softball.’’
And there would be no question for Young where this “field of dreams” indoor field would be located, her “hometown” of Ann Arbor, Mich.