Pitcher senses dead mom’s presence in run
Alexis Ayala felt as if she had an angel on her right shoulder the past month.
It helped guide her and her Sunnyside Little League softball team through some tough and oftentimes serendipitous moments on the diamond this summer.
The angel is her mom – Monica Ayala, who died two months ago Thursday when she crashed in a single-car rollover near Three Points.
“Oh, she’s there,” said Alexis, 12, before Wednesday’s West Regional at Field of Dreams. “She was a pitcher, too. I know she’s there.”
Rene Ayala, Monica’s husband of more than 12 years, doesn’t doubt it, either.
“I feel her presence, definitely,” he said. “And I do see my daughter in her. She looks just like my wife. I may be the only one who sees it, but I saw my wife play when she was younger.
“I tell my daughter that her mom is with her. She’s tapping her on her shoulder.”
After all, Monica Ayala, a former standout pitcher more than a decade ago for the same Sunnyside program, loved being near a softball field, cheering for the program and her daughter. She was a coach, too, helping in a T-ball league in addition to helping her daughter improve.
“She was one of our biggest fans,” said the father, getting emotional while speaking of his wife. “You could hear her cheering in the crowd.
“She played (the game) so she understood it. She pushed the girls just as much as we did. (And) she wasn’t like most of the parents – where she’d say, ‘It’s OK’ – because she pushed. She’d make her presence felt.”
She apparently did in Sunnyside’s remarkable run – from tragedy to triumph in a postseason run dedicated to Monica. Stickers have been placed on ball caps that read: “In Loving Memory of Monica Ayala.”
Sunnyside’s remarkable run ended Wednesday after losing to Pusch Ridge, 13-2, in the finals.
For Alexis, the field – in addition to her friends and teammates – has been the perfect place to forget about it all.
“I’m very proud of them,” she said of her teammates. “They’ve had my back.”
Like Wednesday, when Ayala pitched Sunnyside to a 4-0 win over defending West champion, Southern California.
“It’s been tough at times, but I try to be strong and do my job . . . do things for her,” Alexis said. “She loved the game of softball and I love it, too. I’m having fun doing it.”
Alexis pitched Sunnyside to the state title July 21.
Sunnyside, the state champion in the age group, dropped its first two games of the regional, losing to host Pusch Ridge in the first game and then Alaska.
Then things happened. Sunnyside was scheduled to play Utah on Sunday, but won by forfeit when, because of religious beliefs, Utah did not play. Monday, Sunnyside beat Northern California 12-2, when it had to win by no fewer than 10 runs to advance to the semifinals.
“She’s been great through this whole thing, all the girls (have). The whole team has,” Rene said. “Monica was close to all the girls. She just wasn’t a mother to just one child.”