MARIETTA, Ga. - What if I told you the ace of the Fort Bend Texans 2015 has a long ponytail that sits past the number on the back of the jersey? What if I told you the name of this left-handed hurler is Sarah Hudek? And we’re not talking softball.
That’s right, the star pitcher that took the mound yesterday was a girl, but she proved she belonged right on the mound of the diamond, the baseball diamond, that is. You might be thinking, 'this scenario sounds a lot like the plot on Bad News Bears where coach Buttermaker brings in a girl to anchor the staff.' They have similarities.
Sarah Hudek’s stat line from yesterday’s 2013 16u WWBA National Championship matchup between the Fort Bend Texans and the Howell Hawks Gold 16u was absolutely astonishing, even if a boy had put up those numbers.
Hudek threw six innings without giving up an earned run to the Hawks. She gave up just three hits and collected five strikeouts, showing great command of the strike zone. The lefty threw 80 pitches, 55 of which were strikes, and she didn’t walk a single batter.
“I really wanted to complete the game,” said Sarah. “I was feeling really good today.”
Yes, she does throw overhand. In fact, her fastball velocity was tops between the three pitchers who threw in the game. Hudek hit 77 mph with her fastball, threw a changeup that sat around 67-68, and a hard-breaking curveball that ranged anywhere between 57-61. She said her curveball is her favorite two-strike pitch to throw.
“My changeup is probably my most consistent pitch,” Sarah said. “I’m able to locate my fastball well, so it helps me set up for that.”
The daughter of former Major League pitcher, John Hudek, Sarah has had the privilege to learn the game from some of the best. In fact, her dad mentioned she and Mike Hampton, a sixteen-year MLB veteran and runner-up for the 1999 Cy Young Award, have been working on a cutter. Her dad says she needs to be able to command several different pitches if she wants to go to the next level.
“What I’ve really pushed from her was to make sure that she had command to move the ball in and out, up and down, and keep the hitters off-balance because she’s not gonna be a pitcher that’s gonna be out there throwing 92-93 mph,” her father said.
She’s faced with a lot of tougher challenges than learning how to throw an arsenal of off-speed pitches to get by.
“The biggest thing that she has to overcome is that she does not fail,” John said. “I told her freshman year, ‘If you go out there and you struggle and you have a bad outing, they’re gonna say it’s because you’re a girl. They’re gonna find every excuse to say why you should not play with the boys.’”
She’s taken that word of advice to heart and not only gotten by on the baseball field, she’s excelled.
“I had expected the stares and looks and all that, but it’s become more of a motivation,” Sarah said. “All the criticism and remarks I hear, I just use it to show that I can compete and hang with ‘em.”
This year, pitching for her Junior Varsity team at George Ranch high School in Sugar land, Texas, Sarah put up numbers worthy of a big-league promotion. Her father gave the statistical rundown:
24 IP, 9 H, 6 BB, 27 K, 1 R, and 17 pickoffs
Hudek continues to prove the naysayers wrong by putting up outings that will make you want to give the numbers a second glance and ask, ‘a GIRL can pitch THAT well?’
“It’s been something I’ve never seen before, where a young lady can come out and compete like that,” Fort Bend Texans coach Dennis Carter said.
Carter isn’t concerned with what people might think when they see he’s throwing a girl on the mound in a male-dominant sport.
“I have parents ask me, ‘why do you let this girl play with the boys?’ and then I say, ‘because she can pitch.,” Carter said. “Wherever we go, people see it and you see people stop and they all look like, ‘no, I can’t believe my eyes,’ but the reality of it is she can pitch.”
Raised around the game, John Hudek said Sarah was holding a baseball before she could walk. John started a facility called ‘Hudek Baseball Academy’, in which he and Carter gave kids lessons on pitching and hitting. Carter recalls Sarah always being there growing up, working to improve her game.
“She would mimic the pitcher that I was working with and I was talking she would be over doing everything that I was telling that pitcher to work on,” John said.
Her father believes her mental strength and knowledge of the game are what keep her so competitive on the mound.
“Every time she goes out and performs she gets that much stronger mentally,” said her father. “I tell her, ‘you go out there, you pitch your game, (and) you do everything you can to your strengths. You may not have stuff one day, but you still find a way to win.’”
“I’m just grateful that I have the Major League experience to help me,” Sarah said. “I’ve learned the mental aspect of the game very well from past Major League players.”
When asked if Sarah had ever given softball a try, John chuckled a little bit before answering.
“It’s slow for her, it’s not exciting. She wants to be on the mound in the center of attention. It’s faster and she just wants to compete.”
“I tried softball once when I was 10, but I didn’t like it that much,” said Sarah. “I love the mound. I can go there everyday and pitch.”
Many people wonder what her future plans are on the baseball diamond, or if there is even a future in baseball at all.
“My goal is to get to somewhere in college, anywhere,” Sarah said. “I just wanna be out there playing the game I love.”
“I know how tough it’s gonna be for her to go to the next level, but every time that we go to a level and play she’s showing something that impresses me enough to say, ‘stick with it,’” said John. “She sticks to her guns that she wants to go to the next level.”
John Hudek’s fellow Major League friends recognize how good Sarah is on the mound, especially Paul Byrd, whose DeMarini Roadrunners faced Sarah just last year. Byrd recommended Hudek go to Cary, North Carolina to try out for the U.S. women’s baseball team., so they did.
“She was selected with the one girl from Florida who threw the knuckleball that Joe Niekro taught,” John said. “Now they’re talking about the possibility of qualifying for the Pan-Am Games.”
The Pan-American Games is a major international multi-sport event in which 41 countries from North and South America are expected to participate in. Women’s baseball will be making its debut.
“I’ve always said, ‘you will always have this opportunity to play for the U.S. in the Pan-Am Games. That’s something your dad did not get to do and to wear ‘USA’ on your chest is unbelievable,’” said John.
Sarah Hudek is determined to make her future a baseball future on the mound with the boys. She works hard to make that goal happen and her dad praises her desire and work ethic.
“This summer I’m doing Dynamic Sports Training in Houston, Sarah said. “It’s a really good workout and I’m just trying to get stronger and faster to help gain velocity so that I can have a better chance of playing at the next level.”
Those who know her and have seen what she can do with a baseball know that her dream of playing baseball past the high school age is a very realistic possibility.
“It amazes me every time I see her go out there and take the mound,” said Carter. “That takes a lot of guts, character, and courage to go out there and perform like that as a girl.”
“It’s a beautiful thing.”