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Marx of change

BY AMBER COLVIN

Published April 17, 2006

On June 7, 2005, the winds of change were blowing through Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, Okla. The Michigan softball team was vying not just for its own first national championship, but also the first for any team east of the Mississippi River. Standing in the way was 10-time national champion UCLA.

Down by one game in the three-game series, Michigan had yet to score a run against the Bruins. But in the fifth inning of game two, No. 8 batter Becky Marx stepped up to the plate. Things were about to change - not only for the team, but for Marx herself. And for the St. Joseph native, change was nothing new.

Young Talent

She was supposed to play soccer. Or dance ballet. Anything but softball.

"I was supposed to be the soccer kid," Marx said. "Mom thought softball was too dangerous."

But Marx's soccer coach had a softball team, too. And when one of his players broke her arm, the team found itself one player short of eligibility for competition. The coach suggested the 9-year-old Marx try out.

The tryout was simple: if Marx hit the ball, she was on the team. And much to her mother's dismay, Marx made contact.

"I was afraid she'd get hit in the head with the ball and get hurt," Marx's mother, Debra, said. "I really wasn't thrilled with it. Then, it became the love of her life."

The change of sports suited Marx well. She showed talent from the beginning, moving from recreational leagues to travel teams at age 12. At first, that meant hour-long commutes to practice in Kalamazoo every week. As traveling softball grew more popular, a local team started up, allowing Marx to play closer to home.

On the more competitive teenage teams, Marx stood out.

"It was pretty apparent early on that she was quite a gifted athlete," said Ron Harrah, who coached Marx when she was 13. "She was definitely head and shoulders above anybody else in her position at that age."

Harrah, who describes Marx as "extremely coachable," played her in any position he could, except for pitcher. She moved around the field without complaint, but it was obvious that Marx's favorite spot was behind the plate, where she could control the game.

Ever since she was little, she liked to be in control. Debra Marx recalls her 3-year-old daughter bossing her parents around the house, telling them where they could and couldn't sit.

"She's a born leader," Debra said. "She likes to be calling shots."

As a catcher, Marx could do just that.

"The catcher is the base," Marx said. "I think if the catching position is solid, then everything else can kind of flow from that."

Marx's desire to be a leader translated into big roles off the field as well. She served as drum major of a 243-member marching band and president of the National Honor Society at Stevensville-Lakeshore High School.

Lakeshore had the reputation of being a softball powerhouse, with a trophy case full of state championships to back it up. During Marx's four years, the team nabbed three district championships but fell short of adding another state crown.

Marx, who batted .418 as a high school senior, was selected to the all-state team twice. Naturally, being in the state's softball spotlight garnered some attention from college recruiters.

Michigan coach Carol Hutchins, who had seen Marx at Michigan's summer camps, was among those recruiters. But Marx's heart was set on something else.

Big City, Small Team

Looking at colleges, Marx had a few choices. The one that instantly grabbed her attention was Loyola, a small Jesuit university in Chicago. A campus visit confirmed her interest, especially when she met the softball team.

"I instantly fell in love with the girls," Marx said. "I love Chicago. I'm a huge Cubs fan. It was perfect."

On top of that, Loyola offered Marx a complete scholarship. Back in Ann Arbor, the only offer on the table was the chance to be a utility player on a roster that already had standout catcher Monica Schock.

"I was just going to be a number," Marx said of Michigan.

With under 15,000 students, Loyola guaranteed Marx more than just immediate playing time. Small classes and personal attention from professors were also luring qualities. At Loyola, Marx enrolled in a math class where she was the lone student.

She also felt the effects of being at a small university on the softball field. Her freshman year, the team had just 12 players. With injuries and a player suspended, that number continued to dwindle.

"We were down to nine, and then our other pitcher got injured," Marx said. "We actually had to call a game. They said it was because of weather, but really we just didn't have enough players to play."

As a freshman, Marx saw limited action behind the plate, playing most of the games as the designated player.