Feature: Leading Off

May 24, 2007

By Anthony Nguyen
The Stanford Daily

May 24, 2007

Stanford, CA (CSTV U-WIRE) -- The phrase 'coming full circle' has much meaning for a leadoff hitter in softball - the lineup starts and ends with that player. And for senior Jackie Rinehart of the Stanford softball team, 'coming full circle' has completely defined her collegiate softball career.

When she was eight, the Reno, Nev.-native started playing baseball with her older brothers and father, seeking to be included in their practices.

'I always looked up to them,' Rinehart said. '[Baseball] was always something I wanted to do with them.'

Soon, though, Rinehart moved on to play with numerous softball teams; as she traveled around, she even came to idolize a former Stanford softball star, Jessica Mendoza '02.

'The person I've always look up the most is Jessica Mendoza,' Rinehart said. 'She holds so many of Stanford's records and she's one of the best players on the U.S. Olympic team.'

Following in the footsteps of her idol, softball proved Rinehart's own ticket to the Farm. And once here, she was quickly thrust into the spotlight as the Cardinal's leadoff hitter during its playoff run.

'Freshman year, going to the College World Series was a huge thing for us right off the bat,' Rinehart said. 'From then on, I took every single postseason extremely seriously, and I feel that I get better at-bats because of greater concentration. It's simply all or nothing at that point.'

And as the leadoff hitter, Rinehart did not disappoint. In her freshman season, she started all 68 games for the Cardinal, hitting .356 with 80 hits, 40 runs and 13 stolen bases. Rinehart also went on to set the single-season record for at-bats (225).

With a strong first-year campaign under her belt, Rinehart was able to establish herself at the top of Stanford's order for the next three years. In that time, Rinehart has not let up on any opposing pitchers, hitting over .300 each season on the Farm. In fact, Rinehart will graduate as one of only five players in Stanford history to have posted a career batting average above the .300 mark.

Although her numbers have come a longway, Rinehart still looks back to the habits and rituals she picked up at the start of her freshman year as sources of success.

'It's funny because I really try not to be superstitious, but I've gotten into a routine that I've performed for four years now,' she said. 'When I get in the batter's box, I always enter the same way. When I'm on deck, I do the same routine to get relaxed and into the right mindset of hitting.'

Rinehart has also kept up the freshman habit of hitting last in warm-ups. But despite these throwbacks, Rinehart's game is just as dependent on her adaptability.

'[Head] coach [John Rittman] always tell us that softball is a game of failure, so if you're hitting .300, you're failing seven out of 10 times,' Rinehart said. 'It's just taking every at-bat as a new one, and even if you didn't have a great at-bat the time before, you have to learn from it, learn the pitcher's habits and go from there. I've always had that mindset to learn from each at-bat and take it to the next one.'

Having developed a keen eye and knack for squaring up the ball, Rinehart has been selected to three national teams, including the USA Jr. World Team, the U.S. Elite team and the World University team. On a bigger scale than in her early softball days, Rinehart has had the opportunity travel the world, representing her country in international play. And in practicing with the game's best, she's even been able to meet her idol.

'Jessica comes out to practice once a while, and it's one of the coolest days when she takes the outfield with me,' Rinehart said. 'Those days, I get to play and talk with one of the best in the game.'

Back on the Farm, Rinehart has stood alone as Stanford's sole leadoff hitter, but she's also become a part of a softball family. Planning to stay another year on campus to finish her major in psychology, Rinehart figures she'll remain close with the squad.

'I'm going be their biggest fan next year,' she said. 'I'll definitely be in touch with the girls. They'll always be my teammates and my family.'

Rinehart has spent so much of her past four years with the Cardinal women that when asked about a defining moment in her career,she couldn't choose a single one, only thinking of the many she's shared with the team.

'There are just so many moments,' she said. 'I just realized that I've played over 200 games in the Cardinal uniform. When you look at other sports and how many games they play, we've been through a lot more together.'

Last weekend specifically, Stanford had to go through heartache. Eliminated from the regional tournament with a loss to No. 10 LSU, the Cardinal failed to advance for the first time in Rinehart's career. Though the postseason was cut short, Rinehart was ready for it.

'Every game has the potential of being my last game, and I've kept that in mind,' she said. 'It was fun, but it had to end sometime.'

And whether it's her season, career or time at Stanford that's coming to an end, Rinehart knows she'll always stay close to the game that brought her here.

'Softball is something that I've enjoyed forever,' she said, 'and it's something I want to keep in my life.'

(C) 2007 The Stanford Daily via CSTV U-WIRE

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