Two weeks ago, Aidan Falk trotted out to right field for the first time in her collegiate softball career.
But contrary to the nervousness some players feel when put in a foreign position, Falk relished the opportunity to play the new role with a childlike enthusiasm.
“I was so excited when (Michigan coach Carol Hutchins) told me that I’d be playing outfield,” Falk said. “It’s so fun — you get to run a lot.”
Perhaps that’s the attitude that has made Falk so versatile for the Michigan softball team.
In her freshman season, the New York native started nine games at catcher and 38 as the Wolverines’ designated player. The next year, Falk began 31 contests behind the plate, 13 as a designated player and four at first base — her most natural position.
Now in her junior year, Hutchins has elected to feature sophomores Katie Alexander and Alex Sobczak at catcher. Alexander has since seized the role, allowing Falk to permanently ditch the mask and shin guards.
But she has been left without a permanent spot on the diamond.
Thus far, Falk has started 16 games at first base — mainly when junior Tera Blanco is in the circle — and six in right field when Blanco reassumes her role at first. The offensive emergence of junior Amanda Vargas, who has hit .320 thus far, has also eliminated Falk’s chance of filling the designated player’s role — as she did in 2016.
Though this causes the Wolverines to start theoretically weak defensive lineups, Hutchins believes that Falk’s offensive performance is well worth the possible liability in the field.
“I want Aidan in the lineup and I want Tera in the lineup, but I only have one first base position,” Hutchins said. “This way I can start Aidan in right, let her have an at bat or two, and then insert a true outfielder. We’re trying to keep our best offense out there.”
Despite the movement around the diamond, Falk has maintained her place in Michigan’s best batting order. She’s hitting .347 with three home runs and boasts a team-leading 32 runs batted in and 12 doubles this season.
Both her importance in the lineup and positional variety were on display last weekend at Ohio State and Wednesday against Michigan State.
Starting at both first base and right field in a doubleheader in Columbus, Falk went 5-for-6 with a three-run homer that gave Michigan an early boost during an eventual win. The following day, she was one of just three Wolverines to notch a hit off dominant Buckeye starter, Shelby McCombs.
On Wednesday against the Spartans, Falk notched two RBI doubles, pushing across three of Michigan’s five total runs.
“I’ve been trying to see the ball and swing more freely, getting it off the brain,” Falk said. “A lot of us have gone toward that now. We know how to play the game, so turn off the brain and stop thinking.
“We all know how to hit, it’s just a matter of our minds getting in the way.”
That mindset has allowed Falk to flourish in the cleanup spot for the Wolverines, starting 20 of 38 games in the four-hole.
With Betsa in the circle, however, Hutchins has consistently pulled Falk’s bat for a defensive replacement when Michigan maintains a lead during the latter half of games.
“Her job is to get us some runs and get some at-bats,” Hutchins said. “When we’re ahead, I’m going to keep my best outfield out there.”
But if Falk keeps hitting, she’ll make it tougher and tougher for Hutchins to substitute another outfielder at the end of games.
And as her hitting becomes more and more vital to the Wolverines’ attack, Falk might find herself trotting out to yet another new position just so Hutchins can keep her bat in the lineup.