Erin Ashby has dominated local competition for years. Her next challenge? Stanford.
By Brandon Hensley
Step into the batter’s box against Erin Ashby during a game and you’ll probably lose, walk back to the dugout having struck out and hope for a pitching change sooner than later. Step into the box against her on a July morning on an empty softball field at Crescenta Valley High School and you’ll still lose, but at least this time she’ll give you pointers as you’re flailing away.
Swing and miss – your hands are too slow coming through the zone, she’ll say. Another miss – you’re swinging up; keep it level, she says. Then she’ll give more advice as she’s blowing everything by you: Watch the movement of the seams, and look at the top of the ball, not the bottom, upon release.
Pretend she has you in an 0-2 hole and Ashby says in this situation she throws a screwball, a pitch that tails inside to right-handed hitters at the last second. But no, she doesn’t do that, not here. That wouldn’t be fair.
Afterward though, she’ll share how she’s made you look like a fool. She throws a fastball across her body so it spins differently. She throws a changeup like a knuckleball so it spins out and down, and her easiest pitch to throw is a curveball.
Ashby’s talent on the softball field is no secret. She’s a lanky 5 feet 7, with a deadly wind-up and an even deadlier swing. Or maybe it’s the other way around.
She won Pacific League Most Valuable Player as a junior and senior for the Falcons, her stats proving her worth; as a senior this season, she posted a 15-3 record as a pitcher, with an 2.02 ERA and a .205 batting average against. At the plate she hit .636 with 10 home runs. Her slugging percentage was 1.150 (in laymen’s terms, that’s kind of good).
Those numbers would be eye-opening if everyone who follows her didn’t already know them. She’s been well covered in the press for her play on the field, but what is she like off of it? Apparently, she’s uncoordinated.
“I trip over cracks,” she said. Her father Bill jokes that she’ll trip over a painted line on a sidewalk. One time, she smashed her hand in a door because she forgot to take it away before she closed it.
So clearly, there must be some mistake. This person, who is a self-admitted klutz, who says she watches “One Tree Hill” as much as she studies a textbook, can walk away from CV with MVPs and a scholarship to Stanford. There must be some luck, some serendipitous force working here.
According to Ashby, yeah, it’s always been like that.
Like the time in eighth grade when she had to choose between soccer and softball. To play on traveling teams for both to get exposure would be near impossible, so she went with the one she was most passionate about.
She came on the CV varsity squad as a freshman, and played mostly shortstop for a loaded 29-1 team. Coach Dan Berry didn’t want to stymie her progress at the lower levels, but Ashby used the word “tentative” to describe her feeling when she went to bat.
“[I was] overmatched. As you transition you get a little more comfortable,” she said.
By her sophomore year, CV was running out of pitchers. Berry had her catching sometimes and felt that she had a good enough feel to pitch, something she hadn’t done since Little League. That decision turned out okay.
“She sets her mind to something, she’s going to complete it,” Berry said.
Or the time as a sophomore when she chose her college. Bill was a UCLA graduate, but his daughter wanted to attend Cal Berkeley. So they went up north to look at the school. Bill had also made arrangements for them to meet with Stanford coaches while they were up there. Ashby didn’t want anything to do with it. But before the Cal Berkeley tour, she begrudgingly went, and loved it; the campus, the trees, the cleaner air.
Then they went to Berkeley, and campus life was not what she was expecting. “It was exactly the opposite of what I wanted,” she said.
“It was good for her, just to see the contrast [of the schools],” said Bill. So she committed to Stanford as a 15-year-old. Although she won’t pitch in college, Ashby will get to contribute to a Cardinal team that went 42-17 and deep into the College Softball World Series, so that worked out nicely.
But how about Ashby’s favorite moment from this past season? On May 3, the Falcons were hosting Burroughs, a division rival and one who beat them earlier in the year.
“That was the biggest game of the season,” said CV sophomore outfielder Hannah Cookson.
Ashby had already hit a two-run home run in the game. In the sixth inning, the score tied 2-2, she stepped to the plate with teammate Kelly Bako on second. Burroughs tried to intentionally walk Ashby, something they had done in her last plate appearance.
But Heather Haynes left a pitch out over the plate by mistake, and Ashby punched it into right field for an RBI. CV won the game 5-2, and ultimately tied Burroughs for the league title.
“It says she can stay with what her plan is on hitting no matter what the situation or what the count is and perform,” Berry said.
Chalk that moment up to luck, or good plate discipline. Or both. “If you are in the right state of mind, you can hit the ball,” she said. (By the way, Ashby also pitched seven innings that day, allowing one earned run.)
Clearly, Ashby always steps into a tough situation more confident than anyone.
“Whether I am or not I have to carry myself that way,” she said.
Oh. Well, she certainly fooled Cookson, who has been an admirer of Ashby for years.
She used to come to games when she was in junior high specifically to watch Ashby play. Now they’re kind of like sisters. Ashby tutors her in math and biology, and coaches her a little too.
“She helps me with pitch selections,” Cookson said. “I pop up a lot, so she wants me to stay on top of the pitches.” (Cookson herself is no slouch at the plate. Her two-run home run after Ashby’s hit in the Burroughs game sealed the deal.)
Behind every great player must be an overbearing father, but Bill takes a different approach. “You don’t want to push them too hard. You want to have them find her way,” he said.
While driving to a game he’ll remind Ashby to drive the ball, to go to the opposite field. She’ll shrug him off sometimes. Yeah Dad, I know. I got this. It’s not that Ashby minds taking advice from her father; far from it, but, “I put more pressure on myself than anyone ever could.”
“Performing under pressure says a lot about a person, to keep your composure, buckle down and get the job done,” she said.
In a rare failure this summer, Ashby struck out looking in her final at-bat in a tournament in Colorado. No one needed to tell her about it. When Bill saw her he simply said, “It’s done,” while Ashby stewed. And that was that.
Ashby just turned 18 this summer. Her life is just starting, but her softball days could very well end in a few years, so she said she’s excited about studying architecture.
“It’s just so fascinating to see all the buildings in Italy and France, just the structure and labor that went into it,” she said.
Stanford will be a place to build any kind of future she wants. She said she’ll get homesick, and is accepting of the fact that she might struggle at first.
“I’m expecting it, but I’m working hard so I don’t,” she said.
Her friends may tease her and call her Miss Stanford, and CV baseball player Troy Prasertsit may call her Miss Universe, but she shrugs it off. It’s on to the next challenge, and time to say goodbye to her time as a Falcon.
“Looking back, you don’t really think so, but time really does fly,” she said.
She must have been too busy winning to realize where it all went.