Sarah Shotton brought a world of experience from her world travels to local fastball players this past weekend.
The 25-year-old from Winnipeg was on hand to instruct the two-day CANPitch clinic for youth and adults at the Rainy River First Nations' diamond at Manitou Rapids.
Shotton has been training as a provincial master pitching instructor (MPI) in Manitoba and was tabbed by the province's current MPI Greg Bouchard to bring her knowledge to the Rainy River District.
“Greg is spread pretty thin for doing clinics and so he comes to me to do the further away things,” laughed Shotton.
“The other instructors are older and have families, so it's easier for me to come out,” she added.
“It's equal distance coming here as it is to my cabin in northern Ontario.”
Shotton developed her love for the game through the encouragement of her father.
“We didn't have T.V. growing up,” she recalled.
“So Dad coached me all the time and he's a big part of how I came up in the sport.”
Shotton rose up the ranks in Manitoba to the point where she was named the province's top female player in 2010.
“It's not something that you think about happening in the middle of the season,” she commented.
“At the end, though, it's nice to be recognized in that way.”
Shotton went on to be named the MVP for the Manitoba Angels at the U21 national championships in 2011 and 2012.
“We placed second one of the two years, which was the first time in a number of years that had happened for our age group,” she stated proudly.
“Manitoba's a smaller softball community, though. B.C. and Ontario seem to be the dominant provinces and we're usually hanging out in the third or fourth-place area.”
From there, Shotton played two years for the Galveston College Whitecaps (Galveston, Tex.), where she was then recruited by the Houston Baptist University Huskies situated down the road in the 'Lone Star State'.
“I learned a lot during my time in college, being with different coaches,” she recalled.
“I saw some things when it came to how I was coached that I didn't particularly like and learned what kind of coach I want to be.”
A recommendation from a fastball-playing friend then took Shotton to the great unknown that was playing for the Tex Town Tigers in Enschede, The Netherlands.
“It was the best. I loved it there,” grinned Shotton.
“It's such a small country. It's only 2.5 hours to get across the country, but it's funny because the people there never go that far because they say it's too far for them,” she chuckled.
“Everyone's riding their bikes everywhere and it's a very nature-based country.”
After sustaining back problems during her college years, Shotton's condition worsened over the years where she faced the prospect of recurring surgeries if she didn't end her playing career.
She turned her focus to coaching, which she found out quickly involved even more work than when she was a player.
“It ended up being busier than my playing schedule,” grinned Shotton, who has taken a step back this year from coaching to concentrate on her master pitching instructor responsibilities.
The right-handed flamethrower said to succeed in the game, any players—especially young players—have to possess a true passion for the sport.
“If you're not enjoying it, you're not getting anything out of it, anyway,” she stated.
"You can't develop players who don't want to be there. It's frustrating, but I try and keep it light, keep it fun when I coach.
“(Bouchard) passed down to me the idea that you don't take younger kids out and teach them all the minor things about pitching and not let them just throw the ball.”
Shotton finds the acceleration mentality she sees often in her instructional travels is disadvantageous for youth learning how to pitch.
“The girls who are just starting, they want to move so quickly through the progression and learn three more pitches,” she maintained.
“But kids at the U12 and U14 levels develop so differently from one another,” said Shotton.
"You just have to keep telling the girls to stay on a pace that will be a benefit in the future for them personally.
“If you can't throw a fastball to a spot, there's no point in learning different pitches.”
Shotton was optimistic about a stronger future for the sport, especially now that it has been decided to bring softball and baseball back into the Olympic Summer Games in Tokyo, Japan in 2020.
“There's been a decline in girls playing softball, which is really sad,” she acknowledged.
“With softball being back in the Olympics, you now have the potential to provide some role models for young girls,” said the loyal Toronto Blue Jays fan who also enjoyed the work of former New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter.
“It's a very positive thing that it's coming back.”