When sophomore infielder Natalia Rodriguez played at Alumni Field for the first time last season, she didn’t expect how many fans would show up. They packed the stands. They brought volume. And they gave the recently snowed-over stadium energy.
Alumni Field brings excitement, and starting its home season Thursday, the Michigan softball team needs to adjust to that energy to succeed. Though the environment the first weekend in Ann Arbor can carry some like Rodriguez, playing at home can also present new challenges — ones that the Wolverines plan to shed in favor of home-field traditions and hype.
One such tradition, senior catcher Katie Alexander mentioned, is writing in the sand before games, along with a ‘no phones’ rule in the locker room for team bonding.
“Especially since we get to be in our own locker room, there’s definitely some pregame rituals and then the whole momentum,” Rodriguez said. “We also have our playlist, our walk-ups and that home feeling.”
Despite those team traditions, nerves accompanied Rodriguez’s first game at Alumni Field, but letting loose and playing the game she knew allowed her to overcome those pre-game jitters. Rodriguez expects the team’s six freshmen, following her lead, to also enjoy playing at home and focus on their game with the new environment and colder weather.
“Nerves are natural, but I think the way I took it differently is that I’m still playing the same game and having fun with it,” Rodriguez said. “I know we’ll play in the colder weather, but it’s natural. We’re used to it by now and you get thick skin pretty quick.”
Coming off a mixed start to the season on the road, with two sub-.500 weekends, the Wolverines (12-10) have had success recently in tournaments in the Judi Garman Classic and ASU Invitational. Particularly, Michigan's wins against No. 2 UCLA and No. 5 Washington kickstarted the team's momentum. The Wolverines hope returning home will bolster that momentum even further.
Regardless of players’ excitement and familiarity with the field, where they’ve practiced since this fall, coach Carol Hutchins noted the issues players may face coming home. Distraction from fans, working on their own schedules and dealing with schoolwork are some struggles that could affect Michigan this weekend.
“We’ve been playing on the road for 22 games and we don’t know how to play at home,” Hutchins said. “Being at home is a new distraction. They’re going to come straight from class. … They’re going to sleep in their own beds and they’re going to be away from all of the boundaries and rules and regulations that we give them.”
Despite those worries, playing at home still holds tremendous importance to the Wolverines, and they hope to carry that feeling from the locker room to the field this weekend in their first homestand.
“Whether it’s your first time or your 500th time, we’re playing on our home field in front of our home fans, in the place that we love and are so proud of,” Hutchins said. “After being on the road for five weeks, I’m going to tell you… if they’re not excited as hell to be out on the field I’d be shocked.”