Taylor Bump’s home in Gulf Port, Fla. is almost 1200 miles from Ann Arbor.
Situated right on the azure waters of Tampa Bay, it’s about a 40-minute drive from South Florida’s softball stadium. The last thing anyone would associate with the house is softball. Yet by a chance event, the sport became both the nexus and the antithesis of the freshman third baseman’s house, all in one afternoon.
It was after the Michigan softball team had wrapped up the USF Wilson-Demarini Tournament. If there was one word to describe the up-and-down weekend, tiring would be a fitting choice. Five games in three days, smack dab in the middle of midterms, the players had a lot on their plate. Back home in Michigan, however, an incessant winter storm had no plans to stop.
Coach Carol Hutchins broke the news to the Wolverines: their flight back to Detroit had been cancelled. They would need to stay the night in Tampa after having already spent more than three days there before. That would give them only two full days back home until they had to go back on the road and play in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
“Now what are we going to do?” Hutchins wondered.
The team had 24 hours to kill, over 20 hungry coaches and players to feed and no hotel booked. In the midst of all that, Hutchins didn’t turn to a coach, captain or another veteran, but rather to Bump, fresh off her first collegiate start at third base, for advice.
“Well, I asked her, ‘Taylor, if you were stuck in Tampa with all your softball friends, what would there be to do?’ ” Hutchins said. “I was wondering what we might do. Go to Busch Gardens? Go to the beach? Walk around?”
Bump had no hesitation. Even as a freshman, she knew that she had lots of camaraderie within Michigan softball and a tight family at worst an hour’s drive away. The third baseman goes as far as describing her teammates as “basically my family now.” So, just like that she picked up the phone.
“Hey mom, how do you feel about having the whole team over?”
Fast forward a few hours, and it’s easy to see that Hutchins, Bump and the rest of the team made the right choice. The players traded in sweaty uniforms for swimwear and peace of mind. Some of the assistant coaches and the seniors stopped by a local Publix and bought the fixings for a makeshift ice cream and snack bar — a welcome indulgence for everyone from Bump to Hutchins.
But therein lies exactly the beauty of the softball team’s Tampa excursion. Even though the players and coaches didn’t follow the most efficient schedule or regimen for the day, the opportunity to relax and bond off the field over the course of a long season provides them a chance to grow closer as normal people, without being forced to work together by the rigid construct of college athletics.
“I think every time that we’re together, when we’re together on the field and in the locker room, we become really close, but when we’re together outside of the field and outside of the locker room, there’s just something, there’s a different kind of bond that forms,” Bump said. “And with trust and with laughter and with, just like, smiles, and just being around each other when we’re not around softball, it makes us really comfortable together.”
The Wolverines won’t have many more opportunities off the beaten path to build up true team bonds like they did on this sunny Sunday in Florida. The opportunity to establish a family, like the perfect pitch for a batter, is something Michigan can’t afford to miss out on. Right now, though, after an opportune snowstorm and Bump’s open home, it seems the Wolverines are on the right track.