Stanford pitcher Teagan Gerhart, sister of Heisman Trophy runner-up, making a name for herself

April 19, 2010

STANFORD, Calif. (AP) - Teagan Gerhart still gets regular references to being the younger sister of Heisman Trophy runner-up and former Stanford star Toby Gerhart.

Those who know her well and have watched the pitcher's sensational freshman season for the Cardinal are beginning to turn that around: 'Toby is Teagan's big brother.'

'I'm still always going to be his little sister, nothing can change that,' she said. 'He's definitely set the bar really high here. To be able to follow in his footsteps and keep our name going, it's an awesome thing.'

She is doing just that on campus as Stanford's new softball ace.

There's no avoiding the attention after an improbable weekend last month that featured a perfect game on a Friday night against Santa Clara, followed by a pair of no-hitters the next day versus Princeton and Saint Mary's in the Louisville Slugger Classic.

And Gerhart overcame plenty in her childhood to get here. One of triplet girls born a month premature, she had 17 facial surgeries from ages 2 weeks to 12 years for a cleft palate, 80 percent hearing loss and to remove a large birthmark on the left side of her face. She now has two titanium bones in her ears and only 20 percent hearing loss, and scars are the only evidence of where the birthmark used to be.

It wasn't easy facing the constant teasing she remembers from a young age, when she either wore an eye patch or showed her birthmark.

The mark, as Gerhart puts it, looked like a handprint. The girls were born 5 minutes apart via C-section and the running joke is oldest Whitley 'hit me to get out first.' While Whitley plays softball at Cal Poly, the third triplet _ Kelsey _ is also on Stanford's team as a backup catcher.

Teagan keeps a picture in her dorm room of herself as a little one with the birthmark to remember how her face once looked, and how much she's grown from the challenging experiences in her life. She even plans to meet up with a female professor on campus who had a similar mark on her face.

Toby Gerhart, a powerful running back who lost the Heisman to Alabama's Mark Ingram in the closest vote in the award's 75-year history, is projected as a second- or third-round pick in next week's NFL draft. It was he _ the oldest of six kids _ who taught the girls to braid their hair and even did it for them before school.

'Obviously, she comes from a talented family,' 14th-year Stanford softball coach John Rittman said. 'In our program, she's been nothing but open-minded and open-armed about learning and developing, whether it's pitching, hitting, baserunning, whatever. The great ones usually are like that.'

Heading into a three-game weekend series at Arizona starting Friday, Gerhart was 22-5 with a 1.58 ERA in 185 2-3 innings. She had 169 strikeouts to just 42 walks and was holding opponents to a .177 batting average. Stanford ranks eighth and 10th, respectively, in softball's two polls.

With each strong outing, the painfully shy Gerhart comes more out of her shell and gains a confidence that everybody around her has noticed.

'That's pretty remarkable any time you can throw a perfect game and two no-hitters back to back to back,' Rittman said. 'It's an amazing feat no matter what level of softball you're at.'

Stanford has produced its share of Olympians and All-Americans, yet Gerhart is already well on her way to setting a handful of single-season school records.

'I guess that just shows what's to come,' Kelsey said. 'She's dedicated and doesn't just strive for one weekend like that.'

Gerhart remembers pitching all of about five no-hitters in high school. She is producing plenty on offense for Stanford, too.

In a 17-0 rout of UC Davis earlier this month, she hit a grand slam and an RBI double in a 15-run first inning.

Gerhart is intensely focused even during her side work. She repeatedly tosses the neon yellow ball in the air and catches it before she steps up to start throwing. Then, it's all business.

As she warmed up the other day, firing pitch after pitch to her sister, she shook her head in disgust after one bad offering.

The next was right on target.

'Nice,' Kelsey said.

Pitching coach Trisha Ford was there with a watchful eye, and agreed. In Gerhart's unique delivery, she keeps both hands in her glove, brings them down to her right knee and in one quick arm rotation the ball is gone.

'She doesn't let any success go to her head. She's a very humble kid,' Rittman said. 'She's just gotten better every weekend.'

What's equally impressive? She's studying biology and premed.

Gerhart's mother, Lori, who ran her own day care and had the kids help out, initially was told she was having three boys. She was thrilled because she'd always dreamed of having nine boys. Not until a late-term ultrasound did she find out the triplets would be girls.

'She wasn't too happy about it, but now she is,' Gerhart said.

Her teammates now call her 'Ice T' or 'Vanilla Ice.' And those nicknames sure beat 'Toby's little sister.' And she doesn't mind not being recognized as a Stanford celebrity the way her big brother.

'And I don't ever want to be,' she said.

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