UCLA's Anjelica Selden mowing down hitters with a smile
Posted: Wednesday May 31, 2006 12:32PM; Updated: Wednesday May 31, 2006 1:22PM
She was running late. Well, practice was running late. The interview was supposed to start around four o'clock, which would've given her plenty of time to make it to a 4:30 appointment. But it was already 4:05 when practice ended and the team still needed to hand out its "Bruin of the Week" award in the clubhouse.
Around 4:20, UCLA sophomore Anjelica Selden pitcher came out of the clubhouse, apologized, and said she had one last thing to do. She then grabbed the clunky exercise bike that was sitting in the bullpen and wheeled it about 50 feet into a storage shed.
This isn't the kind of menial task you'd expect one of the most accomplished pitchers in college softball to be doing. Isn't there a rookie or a team manager to take care of that?
"You take it out, you put it away,'' she said, rather matter-of-factly.
Of course, Selden did more than her share of menial rookie jobs last year as a freshman. If a recruit wanted a tour of the team's facilities, Selden volunteered. Carrying the heavy bag on the road? No problem, coach.
This is why the nickname "Jelly" fits her so much better than her given name. Jelly is loose, fun-loving, humble and popular with her teammates. Anjelica sounds like a name you'd give your kid if you wanted her to grow up and become a model.
"Jelly is one of the nicest kids. She's the consummate player's player," said UCLA coach Sue Enquist. "She does not want the individual accolades, she just wants to win for the team, which is a positive but it can also be a negative.''
It can be a negative because pitchers are supposed to be cold-blooded and snarling, playing songs like "Welcome to the Jungle" when they jog into a game. Jelly plays Beyonce's "Bootylicious.''
"I think that (song) reflects who I am," she said. "I'm still having fun, but I've got this, 'Nobody is going to hit off me' attitude. I want everybody to know that I'm fearless, but I don't want it to be so dramatic."
Selden is apt to smile at a batter who manages to get a hit off her. It's a trait that is misunderstood by some as a weakness or a lack of toughness. Chuck D'Arcy, an assistant with the United States national team, coached Selden on a summer travel team when she was in high school, and he doesn't see any problem with her demeanor in the circle.
"I don't think you should let her smile fool you into thinking she's not committed," he said. "We're all told you have to have a gameface, but that's what makes her at ease and the minute you make an athlete not at ease, you're in trouble. She's as intense of a competitor as anyone."
The 5-foot-8 right-hander is already No. 3 on UCLA's career strikeouts list, with 859. Keira Goerl (1,095) is the all-time leader, followed by Debbie Doom (952). Last month, Selden passed three-time Olympic gold medallist Lisa Fernandez (784), although it should be noted that Fernandez shared time in the circle with DeeDee Weiman when she was at UCLA from 1990-93.
In some ways, it's more humbling and disarming to be whiffed by Selden than by a cocky, stone-faced flame-thrower. You can't help but like Selden, but any questions about her toughness were answered last season. In the NCAA tournament, UCLA needed to win five elimination games during the Regional and Super Regional rounds just to make it to the College World Series in Oklahoma City, where the Bruins finished second. Selden pitched every inning of every one of those games despite a torn labrum in her right (pitching) shoulder.
This year, UCLA entered the 64-team tournament as the No. 1 seed and after blowing through the preliminary rounds, the Bruins travel to Oklahoma City to face off against Tennessee in the eight-team College World Series.
D'Arcy, who is in the Amateur Softball Association Hall of Fame as a fastpitch hurler, tipped off the Bruins about Selden early. He could tell that Selden had something special. Rich Balswick, Selden's pitching coach in Vacaville, spotted that talent even earlier.
"She came to me as a 10-year old looking for help, and after the first lesson, I told my wife, 'I think I might have just coached my first Olympic athlete','' Balswick said. "Things came to her very easy. There's just not that many people in the world that understand pitching all that well and she was the type of athlete who could listen to what someone was saying and do it right the first time.''
Enquist consulted with pitching coach Kelly Inouye-Perez before deciding to offer Selden a scholarship. Inouye-Perez immediately noticed the tight spin that Selden had on her pitches, and her athleticism, two qualities necessary for a pitcher to successfully transition from throwing from 40 feet in high school to 43 feet in college. Inouye-Perez also called Selden a few times to get a better read on her personality.
"How does it make you feel to know you can go head to head with the best hitters in the game and really make an impact in the record books at UCLA?" Inouye-Perez asked Selden. "What does that do to you?"
Selden was quiet at first. Then she said, "Bring it on."
"Right there, I said, 'I want this girl,'" said Inouye-Perez.
And now so does everyone else -- whether it's ringing up strikeouts or hauling equipment.