"It's supposed to be hard! If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it. The hard... is what makes it great!"
-- Jimmy Dugan (played by Tom Hanks) in the 1992 movie "A League of their Own"
University of Maine-Presque Isle student-athlete Ghazaleh (Oz-a-lay) Sailors (So./Santa Barbara) probably does not prefer to do things the hard way, but at this point, it is pretty clear she is not one to run away from difficult tasks either.
And that is exactly how it should be. Great stories are not told once and never uttered again. They are re-told so others can receive the message and be inspired as well.
When last it left off, the story of Ghaz (pronounced "Oz") was already a great one:
* Started playing at 2-years old when her 5-year old brother's T-ball team needed an extra player.
* Actually had to transfer high schools after dealing with cyber-bullying and those that did not think girls should be playing a "boy's" sport.
* Became part of history a first time when she and another girl became the first female pitchers to face off against each other in a high school baseball game.
* Represented her country by pitching and playing for the U.S. Women's Baseball Team in Venezuela in 2010.
* Turned down NCAA Division I softball scholarships (despite having never played organized softball) to pursue her dream of playing baseball in college.
* Last season became the first female pitcher in the history of the UMaine-Presque Isle baseball program.
Call Hollywood, their feel good sports movie for 2014 now has a script, right? Well it could, but the thing is, that story is not over yet.
In 2012-13, Sailors provided a few more chapters. In baseball, Ghaz started three games. They were the first starts of her collegiate career. Among her 10 pitching appearances that covered 19.2 innings, she accomplished two major milestones:
* On April 30th, she pitched a scoreless 8th inning at the University of Maine, thought to be the first time a woman has pitched a scoreless frame against a Division I opponent.
* On May 5th, Sailors started and tossed 5 innings of 6-hit, 1-run ball vs. Eastern Maine Community College to notch the first win of her collegiate career. It marked the first time a woman had been credited with a baseball win in the history of the United States Collegiate Athletic Association (USCAA).
Prior to the start of the baseball season, Sailors brought new meaning to "cross-training" for your sport. In fall, Sailors joined the UMPI cross country team. Then over the winter (until baseball started, of course) the California native could be found in the snow, conquering another first, nordic skiing. What the 5'4 spitfire lacked in experience, she more than made up for in attitude and perserverance. During the university's Athletic Awards Banquet held earlier in May, Ghaz was named "Most Inspirational Player" in both of her new sports. Additionally, Sailors was the recipient of the "Al Arman Award" for the student-athlete on campus that "truly has made a difference within athletics and/or the campus community."
With the 2012-13 season, and now school year, in the books, Ghaz looked back at not only how she came to be in Presque Isle, but also what she has been able to accomplish since arriving in Fall of 2011.
You have/had the opportunity to play at the NCAA Division I level in softball. Why did you decide to stick with baseball?
Ghazaleh Sailors: Never playing softball, my USA Baseball Coaches supported my decision in wanting to play college baseball. We tried getting in contact with all levels, from D1 through D3, Canada and the NAIA. It seemed like whenever something was sent to a D1 school, their baseball coaches would never get back to me, but their softball coaches were fired up and jumping at the bit. Their was even a coach who said she would be "waiting for me to switch with open arms."
What was the BASEBALL recruiting process like for you? What brought you to Presque Isle?
GS: After being ignored by many college baseball coaches, my Team USA pitching coach, Tim O'Brien, had talked to me about starting small, and looking at division 3 to see what kind of options I had. Using a NCAA website that listed d3 schools in areas of the country I identified as open-minded and accepting to change, I emailed Coach Leo (Saucier) at UMPI. He got back with me in just a few hours and actually called one of my teachers during student government/leadership class!
What got you into baseball in the first place?
GS: When I was little I didn't talk very much but I had this plastic Spalding baseball glove I carried around everywhere. I was two years old, at my 5-year old brother's t-ball game, and his team didn't have enough players. My brother's coach, who had played for the Durham Bulls, jokingly asked me if I wanted to play shortstop, because I was so little nothing would get under my legs. I smiled and nodded, and I was still in training pants...
How would you describe yourself as a pitcher?
GS: Im smaller than most pitchers at 5'4 and 130 pounds. I know I'm not gonna overpower people, especially the big boys, so I just have to outsmart people. My high school coach called me a baby Bulldog, because I threw each game like it was a battle, and I don't give in to hitters. I try to attack the strike zone and change speeds, locations, hit my spots and try to keep the hitters off balance. If I try to throw harder, it's not going to go well for me, and I'm not going to have good control of where my pitches are, so the big key for me is staying within myself and controlling what I can control.
Who did you watch growing up with baseball?
GS: My favorite team is the Chicago Cubs-probably has something to do with me being an underdog so I decided I would root for one. So my favorite pitchers were definitely Kerry Wood and Greg Maddux. However, the player that always inspired me was David Eckstien because he was small and people doubted him, but he worked harder than anybody out there and never gave up on himself.
How have you been accepted / how is your relationship with your teammates?
GS: I'm not going to lie, baseball has been a very difficult road and I have had to face a lot of adversity on the way. Here has definitely been better than previous experiences, and for the most the guys are accepting. There's always going to be the handful who don't respect me or don't like me, but I am just going to be respectful to them and be the best teammate I can be, and hopefully they will come around.
You have been in Presque Isle for two years now, how has your overall experience been?
GS: I really like it. It's a lot different than Southern California, where I can wear shorts and flip-flops every day of the year, but it's a good enviroment. The people are incredibly friendly and helpful and the friends and relationships I've made with others helped me adapt to a different atmosphere.
Do you remain happy with your decision to choose baseball?
GS: Without a question. Pete Rose said he would walk through hell in a gasoline suit to play baseball, I feel the same way!
Some athletes see a chance to be leaders through their sport, others just want to play. Do you see yourself as a role model?
GS: I would like to see myself as a role model, but at the same time I don't want to take myself too seriously. Out of all the experiences I've had, both good and bad, I've learned that life is a blessing, and treat each day like it is. Every day I have the opportunity to put on the uniform and lace up my spikes, its is a privilege I believe in playing every game like it is my last, and when haters gonna hate, speak with the way you play, not with your mouth. I've been through a lot, but if somewhere down the road there's a little girl with dreams who follows the same path I'm on, and she's treated equally with respect, and the world has no problem with her, I did my job.
This year you picked up not one, but TWO new sports. What was the reasoning behind that decision?
GS: In California, you can play baseball outside every day. In Maine, you cannot. I couldn't handle being inside for most of the year and not seeing the great outdoors. I became friends with a lot of skiers last year, and decided that Nordic skiing would probably help my velocity and make a better athlete, so I talked to Coach (Paul) Stone about it, and he was nothing but supportive in starting me up this year. I would definitely have to see I enjoy the sport and atmosphere of skiing better than baseball, I just wish I was better at it. A few days before school started I was going for a run, and Coach (Chris) Smith saw me and waved, when I was done I ran into him in Wedien and he asked me if I was running a lot. I told him I was running about 5 to 6 days a week, and he asked me if I wanted to run cross country for him. I told him I would give it a shot, and I really liked it, so I became a three sport athlete.
With two more years of eligibility remaining, what goals if any do you still have that you would like to accomplish in your collegiate career?
GS: My mentality is try to get 1% better each day. If you get 1% better each day, then in one year you are 365% better than you were a year before, and it makes you a whole new person. I would like to lock up a spot in the starting rotation and help lead my team to the playoffs, and make some more school history like we did this year with breaking the record for most wins in the season (16). I would also like people to look at me as a figure of perseverance and character, and hopefully some little girls out there who are thinking of giving up on baseball hear about my story and decide to stick with the game that they love, because in my opinion there is no statistic as important as important as making a difference, and never giving up.
Who have been your biggest supporters while you have chased, and in many cases already achieved, this dream?
GS: I have been blessed with a lot of people who believe in me and support me. It starts with my parents, with letting them come all the way to Maine to live my dream, my USA teammates, my friends both in Maine and in California. I have a handful of high school coaches from my junior and senior year that would take a bullet for me and I cannot thank them enough for that. Jake Fillebrown, Jordan Perry, and Carlos Villoria are the big three teammates in my mind that stick out in supporting me, I'm pretty sad that Jake and Carlos are leaving, we will really miss their leadership. At UMPI I have a pretty awesome support group with Coach Leo, Coach Stone, Coach Smith, Travis Parent (UMPI Asst. Athletic Trainer), Trevor Parent (UMPI Admissions Representative / Head Soccer Coach), Barb Blackstone (UMPI athletics Senior Women's Advisor), and (UMPI Athletics Administrative Assistant) Connie Levesque being the first ones that come to mind.