Nearly 10 years ago Michael Brown built a pitcher's mound and a backstop behind his Poway, Calif., home. He wanted a place to practice softball with his daughters, Katy and Mandy. When Katy graduated from Poway High in 1999, Mandy, a freshman at the time, continued to pitch on the well-lit mound every night, refining her mechanics and perfecting her changeup while Michael crouched in a catcher's stance and shouted advice. On days when Mandy pitched for Poway High, her father would practically burst with pride. How could he not? After her junior year Mandy, who went 15-4 with a .066 ERA, was named Palomar League Pitcher of the Year, and four months later she accepted a softball scholarship from Southern Utah.
As she entered her final semester at Poway, Mandy was poised to have an outstanding season. Michael was ready to share it with her. "My dad was so excited," she says. "He really wanted us to do well." But last Feb. 23, Michael, 52, died suddenly at home of a heart attack.
Grief-stricken, Mandy considered quitting soft-ball. "I thought it would be wrong to go on and have fun," she says. But staying at home wasn't helping her either. So, in March, she decided to rejoin the Poway Titans.
At first she was emotionally wrought, and her pitching was less than stellar. She also felt out of sync with her teammates: "I didn't feel like I belonged," she recalls. As the days passed, though, the awkwardness faded and the feeling of camaraderie returned. "She found a bit of sanctuary with the team," says Mandy's mother, B.J.
Gradually Mandy got her groove back and soon had a streak of 120 straight innings without allowing an earned run. In June, Poway won the regional title in softball for the first time, with Brown striking out 10 and hitting a bases-loaded triple to win the final game.
While Brown, 18, is enduring freshman biology at Southern Utah and preparing for her first college season, the backyard pitcher's mound sits idle. There are no plans to get rid of it, though; it's sacred ground. "Mandy and her dad would be out there at 10 at night—misty, foggy, no matter what kind of weather—throwing the ball," remembers B.J. "It was a really nice time for them."