UMass Slugger Noticed
May 17, 2007
Barry Bonds hates the media attention. Stacy Cullington had to become the greatest slugger in the history of her conference, just to get any media attention.
"The whole process of getting to the record was bigger than the record itself," said Cullington, the University of Massachusetts softball second baseman who hit her 15th home run of the season last week, setting Atlantic 10 and UMass records.
"People would come up and ask, did you hit one today?" she said. "I tried hard not to think about it, but people talking about it, that plants the seed. It was hard to not think about it, or care."
This junior from Encinitas, Calif., is not just a slugger. She's a clutch hitter who makes contact when it's needed most.
She did one more thing, too. She put the fun back into the home run chase - at least to those following her, which was was hardly anyone, until recently.
"Nobody pays any attention to us," UMass coach Elaine Sortino said matter-of-factly. "So, when the hype started, I try to keep them insulated."
Sortino appreciates any attention given her student-athletes, who she feels represent what college sports should be all about. But she worries about distractions for players who are generally ignored, then deluged all at once.
"When this whole nonsense started, I asked Stacy, where are you with this?" Sortino said. "But she's a smart kid, and a leader. After we talked, I was 80 percent satisfied."
Cullington's record-setting 15th homer was also one of her longest, a grand slam in a 9-3 victory over Saint Louis for the Atlantic 10 title. UMass takes a 26-game winning streak into tomorrow's NCAA tournament home game against Long Island University.
While much of the nation cringes at the thought of surly Barry hitting No. 756, Stacy has a smile for everyone. She's relieved her chase is over, though.
"I'd foul off a pitch and say, that was my pitch," Cullington said. "You start guessing up there, and wondering if you can hit home runs anymore. There was one at-bat, when I had to tell myself to stop thinking about it."
Eventually, pitchers started walking her with Bonds-like regularity. In a doubleheader against Temple, Cullington homered in the only two at-bats she didn't walk.
She hit No. 14 on April 29, then saw practically nothing decent to hit for two weeks.
"It was frustrating, being so close to the record," Cullington said. "You don't want to have to start over next year."
As Barry scowls from behind his millions, Stacy is getting ready for the NCAA tournament, and for academic finals. She takes comparisons to another slugger, Mark McGwire, as flattery.
"He's a redhead, too," she said, grinning.
So, root for Barry if you'd like. I'm with Stacy, a record-setting slugger worth cheering for.
"I didn't go into this year trying to break the record, but it's nice," she said. "Next year, I'll be chasing myself. I guess that's a good place to be."
Ron Chimelis can be reached at email@example.com