In our effort to inundate our readers with softball information this Spring, BourbonMeyer.com comes with our strongest move yet. A couple of weeks ago, we had the opportunity to interview Gator Great Francesca Enea and ask her a few questions about the University of Florida softball program, the long ball, and moving 3,000 miles from home. Francesca is a 4-year letter winner at UF and ended her career in 2010 as the SEC all-time home run leader. Thanks Franny for the interview.
1.) I guess we’ll start off with a slow-pitch “softball” of a question… what made a California girl come out to the University of Florida to play softball for a team coming off of a season where they had lost 25 games?
There were an abundance of reasons that brought me 3,000 miles away from home to attend the University of Florida. Growing up, I only knew one thing in my life and that was softball. My older sister played as well, and she was the phenom of the family. My early days of softball I was constantly being compared to her and I can admit that she was always the better player, more of a standout. I felt that I needed to get away from being, “Christina Enea’s little sister.” One day my dad told me that Coach Walton (who was the assistant coach at OU for a year while my sister was there) had got the head coaching job at University of Florida. Being the absent-minded LA girl I once was, I thought he was referring to FSU, because I had never heard of UF. I quickly then asked what the mascot was and when he said a Gator, I thought that it was cute and that it fit me perfectly. I knew I had to get to Gainesville, so I could play for Coach Walton.
2.) Like most players, your freshman year was your toughest statistically, how difficult was it to be so far from home while working so hard to get better on the field?
My freshman year was tough, not because I was far away from home but just the adversity I faced while playing. I have been playing softball for close to twenty years, and for fifteen years, I was a catcher; that was my identity. The start of my freshman season in 2007 I was the starting catcher, until February 27 when I tore my ACL while playing Eastern Michigan. Since I had played more than 10% of the games I could not qualify for a redshirt, so I decided to take off about 2 months to rehab. Then decided to play with a torn ACL and meniscus and become the designated player. It was hard for me to accept my new role, which made it harder to accept failure that came along with it. I felt I was constantly pushing myself to do things my body couldn’t handle because I was injured. I blame my freshman year of pure immaturity and not being able to just step up and play. But to be the best you have to start from the bottom, I learned so much that year about myself and I could never regret it.
3.) Which of your teammates did you tend to look to for support in those early days?
I was always really close to all of my teammates and had special relationships with each and every one of them, but the person I would have to credit for getting me through my tough times would be my fiancé Christian. By just being himself he really showed me the type of woman I wanted to be in my life and that carried over to softball; hard working and successful. He got me through all of my insecurities and doubts by pushing me to be the best. I never wanted to fail him, which helped me never fail myself.
4.) So, your records and numbers that you posted while playing for the Gators are well known and well documented and we all loved watching you play, what fuels you to compete and work as hard as you do at the game?
I worked hard because that is what I have been taught to do. It is as simple as that. Since I was five, I felt a certain passion for the sport. I always took pride in being one of the best because I worked too hard not to be. If that role was challenged [not being the best], I would work even harder to make it apparent that I was driven to play this sport. I remember when I was twelve and my father (who is my biggest supporter) said that softball doesn’t come naturally to me and that if I want to take my game to the next level, I need to work harder. Now, before anyone calls DCF on my dad, I believe this scenario will be engrained in me forever, because he was right; if I wanted to be the best, I couldn’t get complacent but had to grow as a player. Thanks Dad, love you!
5.) The “staff” at BourbonMeyer.com has often referred to 2005-2010 as the Golden Age of Gator Sports. In that time span, the Gators went to two College World Series in Baseball, Won two Men’s Basketball titles, 2 Football titles, 3 Women’s College World Series, a Volleyball final, a couple Gymnastics Super 6’s, a track and swimming national title. In addition, we had players and personalities that you couldn’t help but fall in love with… Matt LaPorta, Tim Tebow, Percy, Brandon Spikes, The “04’s” + Lee Humphrey, Stacey Nelson, and yourself. What was it like to not only be a student at UF during this time, but to be an athlete during this time?
I felt like I was being spoiled!! Honestly, Jeremy Foley always talks about Florida being a brand, and that we have to represent our brand correctly. At UF, they just don’t recruit student athletes, but the top of the line, meaning that they know how to win and they know how to put on a “show”, so to speak. You feel a certain bond and an understanding with all the student athletes, so when one team wins or another team loses in some thriller, you still feel like you are a part of it because you understand every moment and the drive that comes from within.
6.) In that same era, the student athlete at UF seemed to change, in that players like Tebow, Stacey, Gemma Spofforth, yourself and others were really into community service, serving a greater good and being genuinely great role models (not that athletes were “bad” before, but it became very apparent in recent years). Is that something that the athletes talk about amongst each other? How important are those efforts to you?
Community service is important as a student athlete because that is your chance to give back to the community that comes out and supports you, especially at UF, because the UAA makes it so easy for student athletes to help out and contribute. The efforts are important to me because I feel that is your duty to help out, and it usually takes no more than a small moment to make a huge impact on someone else’s life.
7.) Speaking of community service, the “Swing for a cure” was a couple of weeks ago. Was this effort your idea? Please tell our readers more about it and how they can help.
Swing for a Cure was an idea that Stacey Nelson and I came up with back in 2009. Initially we wanted to put it on because we thought it was the perfect opportunity to raise some money! This year I spearheaded it for something a little more personal and all the donations made will go to Shands’ Brain Tumor Foundation to help find a cure for brain tumors. (The link to make a gift to Shands is on the bottom left on the linked page)
8.) How did you come to know and become friends with the Lockwood family?
One random Tuesday I wanted to do some quick community service before class, so I headed over to Shands and walked into the infusion room (where children sit and wait to get chemotherapy) and saw Ian and his mother Denise. I walked over and started talking to them and we instantly shared a connection. We talked for hours, and at the end, he said he would love to meet a football player and I told him I’d see what I could do. I had a class with Ahmad (Black) and asked him if he would come meet this kid who is just in love with football. When Ian and Ahmad met they formed this brotherhood that could never be replaced. Ian is someone that will forever be special to me and if I never went to the University of Florida, I would have never met this incredible kid.
9.) Your career ended as the all-time home run leader in SEC history and that record has since been passed by your teammate Megan Bush, who will likely be passed in two years by Brittany Schutte. When I first started watching softball, it didn’t really look or feel like baseball, which I grew up playing and watching, but with the rise and success of the University of Florida program, I’m seeing much less slapping and “small ball” and more 3 run home run offenses developing around the country. Do you feel like you and your teammates have changed the landscape of college softball and the manner in which it’s played?
I would not say that the University of Florida softball team changed the landscape of softball, but were at the height of a changing game. In the early years of softball, you had more dominating pitching and the “small ball” game was necessary. But now with new technologies and more of an emphasis on power hitting, the long ball has become the new craze. But a team needs more than power to win a National Championship (learned that the hard way). Having a diverse lineup will take you far and I think that you will start to see more successful teams have that instead of a lineup full of just power hitters or just slappers.
10.) What should the non-softball fan or common Gator fan that doesn’t follow softball know about the game and specifically, about the Coach Walton’s Gator Softball program?
In the past 4 years, UF has become an elite softball program, which is hard to do in that short amount of time. Coach Walton teaches his players to play with heart and passion and bring a certain entertaining value to the field. When you attend a softball game at UF, you are not just going to watch an athletic event, but you will be watching twenty talented women devoting each inning, each at bat, and each out, to the pure love of the game. Nothing is more exciting than that!
11.) I understand you’re playing for the Orlando Pride (coached by Tim Walton) and coaching softball. What else are you doing these days?
I am currently coaching high school and training for my next national pro fast pitch season! Plus I am studying to eventually attend grad school.
For more information about the Orlando Pride, or the Shands Brain Tumor Foundation, please click on the associated links in the article. For all of your Gator softball information needs, go to www.Gatorzone.com/softball. Florida clinched the SEC East by sweeping the fightin’ Bruce Pearls (Tennessee) over the weekend and are the #2 seed in the SEC tournament which begins for Florida on Thursday May 12th, as they take on Auburn.