Friday, April 26, 2024

Catching Up With Kirsten Verdun

Kirsten Verdun will forever hold a bittersweet place in my heart. Realistically, it was much more sweet than bitter.

After a stellar career on the mound for DePaul, Kirsten joined the Chicago Bandits in 2014, my first season of fully covering the now-defunct league. The next year, I was offered the opportunity to play in an exhibition game between the Bandits and a semi-pro men's team.

At my best, I was a marginal player in men's rec leagues. Despite the odds against me, I wasn't going to pass up this chance. Around the fourth inning, Bandits media person Jason told me to warm up, because I was batting the next inning. From then, it really all was a blur.

My name got called and I approached the batter's box. Bandits 3B Amber Patton offered advice to tuck in my press lanyard, advice catcher Taylor Edwards repeated as I stepped into the box. Realizing their point, I pushed my lanyard into my shirt, understanding I now had less of a chance to choke myself.

I already had scouted pitcher Kirsten. I knew she threw a few pitches, none of which I really had a chance to hit. Earlier, Bandits manager Michael Steuerwald gave me this tip, "when you see the ball leave her hand, it's too late." How prophetic that turned out to be.

As I left the dugout, ace pitcher Monica Abbott politely wished me good luck, smiled and said, I had no chance. Of course, she was right.

I settled myself in the box and took a strike before I even knew it. I wouldn't have even known she pitched it if I didn't hear it slam into Taylor's mitt. I steadied myself and focused on making contact. I swung early, because it was my only chance and felt the ball barely scrape the bat, Contact! I'll take it.

Falsely buoyed by making any contact, I awaited the third pitch. With nerves of steel, I took the pitch as a ball. Was I actually working the count on Kirsten?

Before I had a chance to even think of that possibility, strike three was on the way, well before my bat could meet it. There was no joy in Mudville, as the mighty Johngy had struck out.

I walked away still in a cloud. I felt better later, when I learned 11 other batters struck out, too. These were semi-pro me, too. I don't remember the final score, but I know the Bandits shut out the men, who managed only a few hits all evening.

I always make it a point to see Kirsten whenever I can. I last saw her when she was an assistant at Wisconsin. When I saw she was now with Illinois, I made sure to get to Northwestern when they hosted the Illini.

Of course, with Johngy's luck, it started to rain right as the Wildcats took the win. The Illini team would certainly be rushed to get out and get dry. Still I was not to be denied. Wen Kirsten emerged from the dugout, I approached her for the traditional picture. Despite the loss and the rain, she was as pleasant as could be. I didn't mention the strikeout, choosing to put that issue behind us. Actually, I am quite sure Kirsten never thinks of our confrontation.

In reality, there is no grudge of course, but it makes for a better story. I was excited to bat in that game, regardless of the outcome. As a semi-retired rec player nearing 50, I didn't expect to really get a hit off a pitcher in her prime. Shortly after the game, Kirsten told me the pitch was about 45 mph, which translates to about 90 mph in a baseball game.

As cool as it would have been to crush one off Kirsten, I wouldn't be proud had I done that from any easy lob. Kirsten admitted she did not take it (too) easy on me. Of course not. She has pride, too. Even in an exhibition game, she wouldn't want a 50 year old reporter to go yard on her or even reach base.

I am forever grateful to the Bandits, Jason and especially Kirsten for that moment. It means nothing to everyone else, but to me, it was one fo the coolest things I have ever done. Thank you Kirsten. See you next time.

Kirsten Verdun and me in Evanston, IL-2024

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