The following story, written by Marissa Avanzato, was originally published on 12thman.com.
After an abrupt ending to her sophomore season, Texas A&M catcher Haley Lee turned a negative situation into a positive one by having the summer of a lifetime. Lee spent her summer playing for the Bradenton Lynx, a member of the new Florida Gulf Coast League in Bradenton, Florida.
With COVID-19 sending students and athletes back home much earlier than expected, Lee was sitting in her living room pondering when she would be able to play the game she loves, until her father came across a Facebook post.
"My dad called me into his room to talk about the post he found on Facebook," Lee said. "He saw that they were doing a summer softball league in Florida and asked me if I wanted to join. Without questioning, I said yes."
Lee began the required paperwork for the league the next day. Soon after she got a call from Lindsay Fico, the head coach of the Bradenton Lynx. Fico played softball for the Florida Gators from 2003-06 and is currently the head coach at Santa Fe College in Gainesville, Florida.
"After talking to Coach Lindsay, I knew she was someone I could play for this summer," Lee said.
A few months later, Lee got on a plane to head to Florida to prepare for her summer. Players of the Florida Gulf Coast League reported on June 14, and then participated in a three-day minicamp, with the inaugural season beginning on June 18. Players from around the country were on the Lynx, but meshing with a new team was not an issue for Lee.
"My teammates on the Bradenton Lynx were more than teammates," Lee said. "In such a short time, I got to know each and every one of the girls that stepped on the field with me. Getting to play with them was such a great experience because we were all from different places and to watch a team who has never played together before, connect the way the team did, was something to watch."
Lee made an immediate impact on the Lynx roster, torching her opponents in the batter's box and causing fear to potential base stealers with her cannon of an arm. She was named the FGCL Defensive Player of the Year, was named an All-Star and participated in the league's home run derby.
"Being able to play in the All-Star game was one for the books," Lee said. "We took the top players in this league and put them all on the field at the same time. There was so much talent and want of the ball. It was crazy. I got to catch some great pitchers and be in the dugout with some great players that I didn't get to play with until the end."
Following the Florida Gulf Coast League All-Star game, Lee and her fellow All-Stars took on the USSSA Pride, an independent professional softball team located in Viera, Florida.
"The Pride was one of the most nerve-racking games I think I have ever played in," Lee said. "Getting to play against girls I used to watch when I was still in high school was crazy. And when you're catching and calling pitches, you have no idea what to tell the pitcher what to throw, because their presence in the box is just so confident that you almost have to be perfect."
The USSSA Pride game wasn't the only event that made Lee nervous. She recalls having mixed emotions and looking up to players she used to watch when she was younger.
"When I got asked to be involved in the home run derby against the Pride, I had never been so excited and terrified at the same time," Lee said. "Before the derby started we got to practice and I was upset with the way those rounds were going, but Coach Lindsay told me to calm down and do what I do best. So when Amanda Lorenz, Jess Warren and Sydney Romero all come out the gate hacking, I was like they make it so simple. So that's what I did, I stepped in and just competed the way I knew how and I ended up taking third out of the 10 people who competed."
With many tremendous experiences, one of Lee's favorite memories from the summer is when her family came to Florida to watch her play.
"When I first started the league, my first game or two wasn't my best offensively," Lee said. "But when my family showed up, it was like I flipped a switch. I hit my first home run of the league with them there. After that the team would joke and say that my family couldn't leave and how they were my lucky charm."
As Lee begins her junior season at Texas A&M, she hopes to use some of the leadership skills she learned while playing for the Lynx.
"I hope to bring back a stronger presence and a louder leadership voice, "Lee said. "Playing with the Bradenton Lynx, I was one of the few girls who have already experienced college and the speed of the game at such a high level. Whereas the girls who are going into their freshman year had no idea. I got to lead them and help guide them and become someone they could look to for advice and being the leader they needed."
Although 2020 has been uncertain, Lee cherishes her memories from playing in the Florida Gulf Coast League.
"My experience playing in this summer league is one not to forget," Lee said. "Getting to play with players from all over, from different colleges and different states was so much fun. You just got to goof off and have fun because this was not something serious. It was just for reps and staying in the game you love."