Fowler family at World Series: Excitement, anger, pride and, finally, funby Anthony Gimino on Jun. 07, 2010, under Sports
Almost three years ago to the day, Kenzie Fowler woke up at University Medical Center after seven hours of surgery to remove life-threatening blood clots from her pitching arm.
Her first words: “What’s the score?”
She was a 16-year-old pitcher from Canyon del Oro High School, committed to the University of Arizona, and what she really wanted to know was how the Wildcats were doing against Tennessee in the championship series at the Women’s College Series.
What happened in those next few days are part of Arizona lore. Taryne Mowatt, pushed to the brink of exhaustion with 1,035 pitches in seven days, led the Wildcats to their seventh national championship as UA won the final two games of the series against All-American ace Monica Abbott.
Three years later, Fowler is attempting to pull off a similar Mowatt-ian feat.
Fowler, a freshman, won four elimination games over the weekend — including two against Tennessee on Sunday — to guide the Wildcats into the best-of-three championship series that begins Monday night against UCLA.
After the celebration Sunday night, past midnight at the hotel in Oklahoma City, Kenzie’s mother, Kelly, was reminded about her daughter’s first post-surgery words when former Tucson Citizen prep editor Geoff Grammer sent her a link to his old story.
“You know, we were tired and getting me at 1:30 in the morning … I can get pretty emotional,” Kelly said in a phone interview Monday morning. “I started crying in bed. It’s been almost exactly three years. That’s crazy.”
Related links from the TucsonCitizen.com Sports Network:
Memory lane: A look back at Arizona-UCLA in the College World Series
Kenzie Fowler joins Ron Hassey and Sean Elliott in an exclusive club
As a parent, Kelly — the former softball coach at CDO — and her husband, Lance, have gone through the entire emotional rainbow since the World Series started.
“We started out with excitement,” Kelly said, “and went straight to frustration, then crazy mad, then right back to ‘Oh my gosh, maybe we have a chance’ and then to ‘We’re getting this done’ … and then ‘Yee-haw!’”
Kenzie’s whole softball life had been leading up to the Women’s College World Series, with her wearing an Arizona uniform, but the whole experience began to unravel when she was called for an illegal pitch on her first throw in a first-round game against Tennessee.
Umpires called eight illegal pitches against her as the Vols pounded Arizona 9-0 in five innings. Umpires called the illegal pitches because she was “leaping” off the pitching rubber, with both feet in the air at the same time.
“Thursday night, she was very upset,” Kelly said. “She was more than frustrated. She hadn’t been called for what they were calling her for … ever. Ever.”
Kelly explained that any illegal pitches called during the regular season were because Kenzie’s back foot lost contact with the pitching rubber during her windup.
So after her daughter was distraught Thursday night, Kelly said she saw a different emotion Friday during the Wildcats’ day off.
“Once she hit rock bottom, she just got mad,” Kelly said.
“She just said, ‘You know what, I have something to prove.’ I know she didn’t want to leave Oklahoma City with that feeling. Friday morning, she was mad. We had no idea how she would react.
“The whole thing was horrific. I don’t know any other word. From an athlete’s standpoint, it was horrific. For her to rise above it and be able to truly just put it in the trash can and move forward … Lance and I and (Kenzie’s sister) Mattie are extremely proud of her heart and her sheer desire to win no matter who is in her way.
“She felt like, ‘Gosh, I need to do my job to give us a chance.’”
Fowler’s pitching gave the Wildcats a chance, and UA’s hitting came around over the weekend.
In the four weekend games, Fowler pitched 25 innings with an ERA of 1.12. She allowed 15 hits, striking out 32 and allowing 14 walks.
It’s funny how Arizona and its fans were concerned before the World Series about Kenzie’s bruised forearm, which became an afterthought as the focus became her feet.
Through it all, how will Fowler hold up physically for at least two more games against the powerful Bruins?
“She is going on nothing but pure adrenaline and passion. I think she will be fine,” Kelly said. “I kind of hate to see it end. This is how I envisioned it. Yesterday was fun. Now, this is fun.”