Mackenzie Nemitz started her birthday well.
Walking up to the booming guitar solo from Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” with the momentum of her team’s 4-0 home-field lead behind her Sunday, Nemitz started her at-bat by taking two high balls. She stepped back, readjusted her grip and lifted her bat for the third time. A moment went by. And then the pitch.
Nemitz struck the ball, and it flew.
It was the senior infielder's second home run of her Michigan career.
The afternoon before her birthday, on Michigan softball’s “Mackenzie Nemitz Day,” Nemitz hit a soaring home run past the right field wall at Alumni Field. The blast, with an RBI groundout single in the fourth inning, topped Nemitz’s total statistical performance at the plate this season. But it meant more than that.
“I was wrapping third and I was like, ‘Please don’t wake up,’ ” Nemitz said. “As I was rounding third and running to my teammates, I was thinking, ‘This is real.' So it just felt awesome.”
Where other seniors' might be, Nemitz’s presence at the plate wasn’t long-cemented. Nemitz had only played in six games before this season. But now, with 16 starts this season, she has secured a place in the hitting order as a regular for the Wolverines.
Starting regularly at designated player, Nemitz has grown into embracing her role and hitting consistently, despite the difficulty that playing designated player and waiting long periods of time between at-bats presents.
“It was a position that was open and up for grabs, and she grabbed it,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. “(She) really has just hung in there through her career and has gotten this opportunity. It’s been fun to watch.”
That moment of euphoria, running home to popsicle stick Mackenzie heads waving in the stands and beaming teammates meeting her at home plate, exemplified the work ethic and commitment that the Michigan softball program rewards.
“She’s always been a great teammate and worked hard, and it’s just great that she’s taking advantage of that opportunity,” Hutchins said. “The toughest kids of all have come from the wings. …They didn’t get their heads down or their nose bent out of shape. They didn’t start blaming or get sour. They just kept working and trying to help the team win, and those are the kinds of kids that you love to coach, and those are the kids who keep you coaching for 35 years.
“A lot of people have to work their way up. And (Mackenzie) has really worked her way up.”
Yesterday’s ecstatic atmosphere as she ran into home plate certainly showed that.
So happy birthday, Mackenzie Nemitz. Yesterday you gave yourself one hell of a gift.