For catchers like Danielle Lugo, black and blue are the true colors of spring.
The Sacred Heart High School junior proudly shows off the bumps and bruises that mark her arms, the results of biting foul tips, like they were the latest accessories to the catcher’s ensemble.
While pitchers and shortstops are often considered the glamor positions on a softball diamond, catchers are a different breed and they take pride in their ability to handle the often unforgiving position behind the plate.
They are the ones that work in the dirt, covered in sweat from the bulky equipment and ready to flip their mask off over and over and over again.
“You can’t be a princess and be a catcher,” Lugo said. “You’ve got to be tough. It’s a tough position, but I love it. I love the action. You’re part of the game on every single play. It’s great.”
So why would anyone want to put themselves through the grind of being a catcher?
“We’re crazy,” Vineland’s Kylie Finley said. “Any position on the field is hard, but there’s just something about being a catcher that makes this position the hardest in my mind. The heat, the extra gear, the foul tips. It’s also taxing on your knees and shoulders. But I wouldn’t want to play another position.”
Neither Lugo nor Finley started out behind the dish, but each followed a similar path to those who ultimately strap up the shin guards and put the chest protector on. Both were infielders for their town ball teams, but when their coaches couldn’t find someone to play the position, each gave it a try and quickly caught the catcher bug.
Along with Millville’s Rachel Rivera, Buena’s Ashley Surran, Delsea’s Trista Mokienko and Cumberland’s Jackie Martin, Lugo and Finley make up an extremely talented catching corps in the area.
“It probably is the deepest position around here, there’s some great athletes in that group,” Sacred Heart coach Les Olson said.
While there’s the tough, physical part of catching, there’s also the cerebral side too.
For many teams, catchers are the ones who call the pitches during the game, not the coaches.
Surran earned the trust of coach Pam Pickett, who very rarely tosses the keys to her pitching game over to the receiver.
“She’s done a very nice job back there,” Pickett said. “I’ll still make suggestions on pitches during the course of a game, but she’s the one who has been calling it back there. She’s worked extremely well with all of our pitchers.”
And even when she doesn’t call a pitch, the catcher still plays a key role in what pitch is thrown in a particular situation.
“If we have a runner on third base, I’m still able to call for any pitch because I know (Lugo) will go down there and get it if it’s in the dirt,” Olson said.
With that much influence on a game, it’s not surprising that the catcher is often a vocal leader on a team.
“I think you have to be,” Filey said. “You have to take charge. You’re the one who sees the entire field, everything is in front of you. You’re checking the defense, you see where the hitter is lining up in the box and you know what pitch is coming.”
Lugo added, “You’ve got to be able to settle down the pitcher if she gets into some trouble, you have to be able to tell everyone to ‘Bring it in’, calm everything down and play ball.”