Editor's note: Weather has postponed Saturday's Athletes Unlimited softball games. They will now start at 2 p.m. and be streamed on ESPN3.
Nothing gets in the way of Danielle O’Toole and her book of secrets.
Except maybe a little rain.
Last summer’s book, the one she used while helping Team Mexico qualify for the Olympics, got caught in the rain. She lost everything — all the notes, scribbles and information she uses when it’s time to pitch.
O’Toole, the former Arizona Wildcats ace, was devastated.
“I had written some notes on Chinese Taipei and I had left it and I don’t need to throw (against) them anymore, so I think it was really subconscious, but I had left it,” she said.
The rain-soaked book was found by Victoria Hayward, a member of Team Canada who is now one of O’Toole’s teammates in the Athletes Unlimited softball league. Hayward, who is also a pitcher, told O’Toole that she read her notes on Chinese Taipei. It’s “not a secret; people know I have a binder,” O’Toole said.
“People know I take notes. People know I’m a psycho,” she added with a laugh. “I do have a big, big binder for everybody here.”
O’Toole’s time in the upstart Athletes Unlimited league, which switches teams and awards the best individual players based on a points system, has been uneven.
Just consider what’s happened this week. On Monday, O’Toole entered Game 3 late and was tagged for a few home runs, dropping to 26th place with 488 points.
One day later, O’Toole was selected as a first member on Team Reed. The previous week, she held the same honor for Team Hayward. (Among the rules for new league is a constantly rotating roster of teams; captains draft teams every week).
O’Toole said that while it’s nice to be one of the first players off the board, she knows every single move is significant.
“If you’re not picking this person, you know Plan B. If you’re not picking that person you got another one,” she said. “It’s a tough league. I got my butt whipped the other day and it’s because I’m not getting a mental break. Every hitter — it’s like 1 through 9, good hitter after good hitter after good hitter. I do not get a break, and you can’t afford to take a second off and that is tough.”
O’Toole called Athletes Unlimited “a hitter’s league.”
Which is why, more than ever, O’Toole must rely on her book. The book is now a binder, because with players switching teams each week, O’Toole needed easier ways to organize the information. The first few weeks in the Athletes Unlimited league, O’Toole drew her own spray chart on paper and drew a strike zone to show the pitches that led to outs.
O’Toole says she doesn’t quite remember when she started tracking where a hitter likes pitches, how to gets them out, and where they hit in the field. She does know that her mom, Dianna — a former UC San Diego pitcher — had her look at certain things.
“Watch what their hands are doing. Watch what their feet are doing. Watch the way their swing looks. What can you throw somebody who swings this way or this way or this way? Or just trying to find a hole. Where’s the hole? That’s the question. Where’s the hole?” O’Toole asked.
But there’s a problem.
In the Athletes Unlimited league, “there’s no hole. You just have to figure out what pitch they’re wanting.”
In between innings she reviews the next four batters to remember how she likes to pitch to them. And, if the game has the right rhythm, she’ll update the previous inning’s outcomes. If not, she waits until after the game.
O’Toole thinks she may be the only pitcher who keeps a book like hers.
“I haven’t heard anybody do it, but that’s also because some people don’t like it. Some people don’t find it necessary,” O’Toole said. “It helps me. I know everyone’s different.
“A really long time ago, I told (former UA pitcher) Nancy Bowling — Nancy never liked to watch film — I always told her, ‘To me, it’s like if someone’s giving you the answers to a test, wouldn’t you want them?’ That’s how I look at it, but sometimes I get beat. It is what it is. I still get beat.”
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