A Tale of two Diamonds

Journal/ Sam Green

Shortstop Zoey Young runs down a Delta base runner trapped between first and second for the M-CHS Lady Panthers softball team last season.

By Bobby Abplanalp
Journal Sports Editor

Baseball and softball are basically the same game.

Obviously, there are a few differences.

Baseball has a smaller ball and it travels faster. The grip is different. The softball diamond is smaller and that means the ball gets to the plate quicker in game with the larger ball. But a baseball is harder to hit.

But perhaps the most significant difference comes from who is on the field. Baseball is typically for boys and softball is typically for girls.

Zoey Young knows a lot about both games. A senior at Dove Creek, she is an all-around athlete who has won multi-sport letters, including being named All-State as a cheerleader this year. Young has also been an All-Conference basketball and softball player. And now, she is on the baseball team.

Young is the starting second baseman for the Dove Creek Bulldogs. She is actually one of three girls playing for 47-year Hall of Fame coach Ken Soper.

Although this is her first full season of high school baseball, Young is savvy in terms of experience on the diamond. Young’s favorite sport is softball and she has played it since the early days of her youth. She carried that passion for the game through all four years in high school. But she had to travel to fuel that passion.

Dove Creek, a 1A school, doesn’t have a softball program, so she played for Montezuma-Cortez High School. That meant, Young had to hit the road to Cortez, driving south for 35 miles on U.S. 491 for every practice, every home game and every bus ride for four years to play for the 4A Lady Panthers. Playing softball at the 4A level was definitely an adjustment. But Young managed just fine. As a junior, she led the Lady Panthers in batting average (.596), home runs (four) and Runs Batted In (21), which garnered her All-Southwestern League honorable mention.

“I learned so much. I just got better and better,” Young said of playing softball at Montezuma-Cortez. “I definitely had to step up to the plate and play my best ball. I enjoyed it a lot. It’s been such a good experience. I made a lot of friends at Cortez.”

A rough start to baseball

In her senior year, Young was again a leader of the Lady Panthers. But then came spring and Young wanted to return to the diamond. That’s when she decided to play with the big boys. It wasn’t a comfortable situation for Young trying out for the Bulldogs baseball team. Back when she was a freshman, Young had attempted America’s Pastime. Things didn’t go so well.

“It was the second day of practice and I was catching fly balls. I was going to be an outfielder,” she said. “I missed one and it (the baseball) came and hit me in my right eye. I couldn’t play.”

A baseball to the eye hurt but then came the painful order from the eye doctors. They told Young no more baseball. One more baseball to the face could permanently blind the sight in Young’s right eye.

But every spring, Young couldn’t help but think about getting back on the diamond.

Three years later, she is back.

“I’ve been thinking about doing it and it’s my last chance to try it,” she said. “I went ahead and went for it. I’m really enjoying it.”

So far, Young has six RBIs on seven hits this season in helping lead the Bulldogs to the 1A District I playoffs. Things certainly haven’t come easy, though.

Baseball is faster, so timing is much more difficult. Boys are bigger, stronger, quicker and more physical. Some teammates and opposing players also like to give the girl at second base a hard time. Through it all, Young has adjusted.

Coach helps her adjust

Zoey, whose parents are Bryce and Michelle Young, says one of the major reasons for being able to keep up with boys on the baseball field is because of her veteran coach.

“He just knows so much. It’s so nice to be able to play for someone like that,” said Young about Soper.

The mentoring nature of Soper has been invaluable to the young baseball player.

“Anything you ask, he always knows the answer. He just has so much knowledge, so I enjoy playing for him. I think I’m doing OK my first year of baseball.”

Ultimately, Young’s softball experience prepared her for baseball.

“They have the same concept, so it’s definitely helped me out a lot,” she said. “I don’t have too hard of a time with stuff. I can catch on pretty quickly, because they are kind of the same.”

Although the end of baseball season will mark the end of a very successful and memorable high school sports career for Young, she’s not planning to leave the diamond yet. Young is looking at attending college at Fort Lewis (Durango) or Colorado Mesa (Grand Junction) and is planning to play intramural softball.

Dare it be said that the diamond is Young’s best friend?

“I love softball so much. It’s by far my favorite sport,” she said. “I’m going to try and play softball wherever I go.”

Young wants to major in elementary education or psychology. As long as she has a job working with kids, she’ll be happy.

“Being around kids, it’s showed me they’re definitely my passion,” said Young, who works at a day-care center in Dove Creek. “I feel that if I go in any direction of having to do with kids, that I’m going to be on the right path.”

Even when she had to travel 70 miles a day to practice and games to play softball, even when she was told by doctors that she should not play baseball again, Zoey Young was determined to be on the diamond.

For this high school senior, her passion for the diamond sports has never curved.

Reach Bobby Abplanalp at bobbya@cortezjournal.com.

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