Student-Athletes, And Parents Too
The closer on the baseball team answers to "Pops." And when a certain player for Oregon softball hits a homer, it's a "Mom Bomb."
Every student-athlete lives a hectic life with competing priorities, from academics to athletics, managing finances to managing a social life. In the last two years, those priorities have been shuffled for Jasmine Williams of Oregon softball, and Kolby Somers from baseball.
For each, one priority ascended above all others. Somers and his long-time girlfriend became parents of a boy in July 2020. Williams and her husband on Sunday celebrated the first birthday of their baby, also a little boy.
On the diamond, Williams and the Ducks were looking to regroup after a loss Sunday. At home, Williams had a birthday to celebrate.
"I can't go home and dwell on a loss or anything, because when I go home I'm a mom, I'm a wife," said Williams, née Sievers. "I have other responsibilities to take care of, which is kind of helpful because it makes me take my mind off of certain things.
"And then when I come back here, I'm a student-athlete, I'm a softball player."
Williams was a first-team all-conference shortstop and a member of the Pac-12 all-freshman team in 2019, when she hit .326 with a team-high 20 extra-base hits. After the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, she sat out 2021 as a redshirt and gave birth to her son, Zee.
Somers has been pitching for the UO baseball team since 2018, and has been the Ducks' closer the past two seasons. That means pitching in some high-stress situations. But he has a new perspective since the birth of his son, Kolten, almost two years ago.
He also has, courtesy of his teammates, a new nickname: "Pops."
"I'm still the same goofy guy that I was before," Somers said. "But now I just have a little version of me. The guys love him a lot. He's part of the family."
"I never would have known how much a kid could really change your life for the better. He's just really been such a blessing in my life."
When Somers found out his girlfriend back in their mutual hometown of Hillsboro was pregnant, around the start of 2020, he sat down with UO head coach Mark Wasikowski. As they talked, any anxiety Somers might have been feeling quickly lifted.
"He was just super supportive," Somers said. "He basically said, anything you need to help you and help him, you got it. All of our coaches have really done everything they could to be supportive."
Concessions have been made for both of Oregon's parents on the diamond. Somers has been excused from some team meals to make overnight trips back to Hillsboro. Williams has had teammates help with child care while she's at the facility getting in a weight workout.
Programs talk about having a family atmosphere. Somers and Williams have felt it first-hand, since each began preparing for parenthood.
"I didn't know if I was going to come back or not," Williams said. "And when I called Coach Lombardi and told her, she said, you're always going to be welcome back. So I never had to worry about if I was allowed to come back. Just more of the dynamic of, how am I going to make it work?"
To make it work, both Williams and Somers have leaned on their partners.
Kolten Somers lives with his mom in Hillsboro, making regular trips to Eugene to watch Kolby pitch – and assuming, when baseball is on TV back at home, that pretty much every single player is dad. Williams and her husband, a former football player at Central Michigan, are living together just outside of Eugene.
"He does everything – he works, he's basically a stay-at-home dad, he does the finances," Williams said. "He just takes care of everything and allows me to do what I'm able to do. I wouldn't be able to do it without him."
It was her husband who gave Williams the final prodding she needed to resume her softball career. For one thing, it would give him a chance to watch her now that he has moved to the Eugene area. And their son would have a great lesson for the future, about finishing what you start, and persevering through unexpected circumstances.
Somers too made a decision about this baseball season with his son in mind. He could have left school after last season, when he was third-team all-America, to take a shot at pro ball. But he's back this spring closing out games for the Ducks, and pursuing an advanced degree at the university.
"I love Oregon and I wanted to come back and play for the Ducks, and help us win a national championship," Somers said. "But also I knew if I signed with a team, I'd spend half the year across the country and couldn't see him. And I wanted to get a master's degree, to help my career after baseball. Knowing that I have a son and I need to provide for him, that definitely played a big role in my decision."
Thus, "Pops" is back at PK Park this spring, taking the mound for the Ducks. Meanwhile over at Jane Sanders Stadium, Williams has hit two "Mom Bombs" this season, with time still for a few more – and for all that life as a parent is bringing to her.
"I've learned that I'm so much more than just a softball player, and that things I used to care about don't matter," Williams said. "There's so much to life, so many blessings – and so many blessings in disguise. This is my journey and I'm embracing it, and doing everything possible to make the most of it."