ANDALE — There’s this rumor making the rounds that Andale senior softball player extraordinaire Sydnee Eck has decided to forego playing college softball and instead plans to concentrate on a pursuit of a career in medicine.
Well, I’m here to report there’s some truth to that rumor. Eck, who added another accomplishment to a long list by pitching Andale-Garden Plain to a 4-1 victory over previously-unbeaten Maize South on Thursday afternoon, has pretty much decided this season will be her softball swan song.
But if you really push her on the subject, she’ll eventually admit that it’s not quite a done deal. If a school came in with an offer “too good to refuse,” she would listen.
“I love the game of softball and I’ve played it since I was 5,’’ said Eck, a two-time All-Metro pitcher and third baseman who has given up 16 hits and six walks in 53 1/3 innings this season and is batting around .550 with eight home runs.
A couple of weeks ago, Eck was included in the Faces in the Crowd feature in Sports Illustrated after striking out 21 of the 22 hitters she faced in a game against Buhler. Eck also hit a pair of home runs in that game.
When Eck replaced three-time All-Metro pitcher Karley Schmelzer in 2010, I’m sure most expected a dropoff. There hasn’t been as Eck has established herself as one of the best softball players in the state.
She was 15-1 last season – her only loss was to Maize South – and she pitched a no-hitter in the Class 4A championship game. She also avenged the loss to Maize South in the state tournament and beat the Mavericks again Thursday in Andale.
So why is her telephone so quiet? Why is her mailbox nearly empty? Why aren’t coaches from big-time softball schools knocking one another over to get her attention?
Eck, so far, has received only mild interest from a couple of junior colleges.
“And no offense to junior colleges, but that’s not something I’m shooting for,’’ she said.
She has talked to other college coaches, but so far it’s only been talk. Perhaps the word is out that Eck isn’t interested in playing after her high school career. She has told people that, after all.
“I want to study medicine at some point, that’s the plan,’’ Eck said. “After thinking about it for a while, I decided that I’ve had a great high school career and that it’s time to move on.’’
Eck plans to attend Kansas State in the fall, where she will study pre-med. She hopes to one day become a physician’s assistant, a nurse anesthetist or an orthopedic surgeon.
As far as those closest to her on the Andale-Garden Plain softball team know, softball will soon be in Eck’s rear-view mirror.
Eck’s catcher and close friend, Alli Heimerman, said: “Sydnee just decided she doesn’t want to go to the next level.’’
Yes, but . . .
Leaving softball behind, Eck realizes, will be difficult. It’s her sport, the only one she’s ever played seriously. She’s always been good.
“I’ve gotten to see a lot of places and meet a lot of people because of softball,’’ she said.
As good as softball has been for Eck, there is a voice inside her head telling her she’s had enough. She doesn’t deny feeling burned out, at times, for all the games and innings and pitches.
“There’s a sense of burnout, yes,’’ Eck said. “Obviously, that’s a part of this decision. After a while, missing out on all the things you miss out on becomes something you think about. So many things go on on the weekends and I’m usually playing in a softball tournament somewhere. I still love the game, though, and it disappoints me that I’m not going to play.’’
But not that much. Hard as it’s been, Eck says she is prepared for a life without softball, even excited about the possibilities. She has been deluged with recognition throughout her playing career and the Sports Illustrated mention, while exciting and appreciated, was also embarrassing.
“She’s very humble,’’ Heimerman said. “After she was in the magazine, everybody was telling her about seeing it and she really didn’t like all of the attention that much.’’
Eck is worried that all the praise being heaped on her is resented by her teammates. It’s not even close to being true, but it says a lot about her character that she thinks about such things.
“I view this as being a team effort,’’ Eck said. “It’s not just me out there. I would rather the whole team be recognized than just me individually.’’
Eck has a good fastball and an excellent curve, which she uses as her out pitch. And she’s a bulldog on the mound. Maize South was able to put the ball in play against Eck, but usually without much impact.
“She has such great composure on the mound,’’ her coach, Doris Hein, said. “That’s something that really helps her.’’
All these attributes and no scholarship offers to speak of. It doesn’t make any sense, given Eck’s tremendous career and versatility as a pitcher and hitter.
Has she really given up on the notion of playing college softball?
“I guess the door could be open just a little bit,’’ Eck said.
Somebody should go through that thing.