ANN ARBOR, Mich. — She caught the ball, took the hit and made the out. But Gophers catcher Ann Bartholmey can’t remember the most memorable play of the Big Ten softball tournament’s opening day.
It was the top of the third inning in Minnesota’s first game Friday. Iowa had runners on second and third base with the score tied at two when Hawkeyes outfielder Brandi Macias stroked a single to left field. The first runner scored easily, but Tasha Reentz — the runner waived around from second — had a harder time getting home.
Gophers left fielder Amber Hegland fielded the ball and threw it on a line to Bartholmey. Here’s how Bartholmey described the play: “I saw (Reentz) halfway down the line, and I knew something was going to happen. I remember seeing the ball, but as far as actually catching it and her hitting me — I don’t remember that. I guess I wasn’t ready for that kind of an impact.”
The three hits nearly occurred simultaneously — the ball hit Bartholmey’s glove; Reentz hit Bartholmey; then Bartholmey’s head snapped back and hit the ground. It was Pete Rose and Ray Fosse all over again, only this time the catcher held on. Reentz was out.
Bartholmey was nearly out herself. She laid motionless on her back for a few moments, holding on to the ball. Gophers pitcher Steph Klaviter had to pry it from her fingers at home plate to prevent the batter, who had gone to second base on the throw, from advancing to third. Bartholmey finally got up, and after being checked by Minnesota’s trainer, completed the inning.
Bartholmey also caught the fourth inning, but then her vision started to go. She reluctantly left the game and was taken to a nearby hospital to be examined.
“I really didn’t think I had anything wrong with me at first,” Bartholmey said. “But when I came back out (in the fifth inning), my vision had gotten worse and I couldn’t see everything. That was the concern because I couldn’t see parts of things out of my left eye.
“Leaving the game was the hard part. I didn’t want to come out. But what are you going to do if you can’t see the ball? That probably hurt worse than the injury did — having to come out.”
Removing the junior catcher from the game was an easy decision for Gophers coach Lisa Bernstein, who took Bartholmey’s medical past into consideration. Bartholmey suffered a severe concussion in the car accident that almost left her teammate and roommate Jenny Lopez paralyzed last June. Bernstein wasn’t going to take any chances.
“After what we went through with Lopey, the whole season was put into perspective for us, and we’re not going to change that just on a whim,” Bernstein said. “We’ve got to take care of the kids and take care of their health.”
Fortunately for Bartholmey, her foggy vision cleared up much more quickly than Kirby Puckett’s. She could see fine by the time she got to the hospital. The doctor diagnosed her with a very mild concussion and cleared her to play in the next game.
Back at the ballpark, right fielder Renee Sbrocco stepped in for Bartholmey behind the plate and hit a two-run double in the fifth inning to key Minnesota’s 8-6 comeback win. Sbrocco’s catching has been limited to two games during the last two years because of Bartholmey’s durability. It’s not that Sbrocco doesn’t feel comfortable behind the plate — she played the position for two years in high school — it’s just that Bartholmey rarely takes herself out of games.
In Minnesota’s game against then-No. 7 Cal-State Fullerton on March 20, Bartholmey dislocated her thumb. Rather than come out, she popped it back in herself and finished the game. It was that kind of toughness that helped her come back from the hospital this past weekend and play seven innings in all three of the Gophers’ remaining Big Ten tournament games.
“She’s a fighter,” Bernstein said. “When she knew she had to leave the game (against Iowa), she came out and started to cry. (Reentz) didn’t slide at the plate — it was more like drop it or die, and Annie held on and got the out for us. She wants to be there with her team. She’s done all the dirty work and this is the fun time — the time to shine. I’m just thankful it’s not worse.”
And luckily for Bartholmey, this whole episode should be easy to put behind her. After all, she can’t really remember it.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had my bell rung like that before,” Bartholmey said. “Hopefully I won’t ever again either.”