Daily Hampshire Gazette - Established 1786
Cloudy
56°
Cloudy
Hi 78° | Lo 53°

UMass softball coach Elaine Sortino guest of honor

  • Alumni and current members of the UMass softball program pose for a picture with coach Elaine Sortino after the field was dedicated to her name Saturday.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS

    Alumni and current members of the UMass softball program pose for a picture with coach Elaine Sortino after the field was dedicated to her name Saturday.
    JOSH KUCKENS Purchase photo reprints »

  • UMass Softball coach Elaine Sortino is surrounded by friends, family and former players before having the field dedicated to her name Saturday on the UMass campus.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS

    UMass Softball coach Elaine Sortino is surrounded by friends, family and former players before having the field dedicated to her name Saturday on the UMass campus.
    JOSH KUCKENS Purchase photo reprints »

  • UMass Softball coach Elaine Sortino poses with former player and Olympic Gold Medalist Danielle Henderson and the Minuteman mascot before having the field dedicated to her name Saturday on the UMass campus.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS

    UMass Softball coach Elaine Sortino poses with former player and Olympic Gold Medalist Danielle Henderson and the Minuteman mascot before having the field dedicated to her name Saturday on the UMass campus.
    JOSH KUCKENS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Friends, family and former players of UMass Softball coach Elaine Sortino surround the infield before having the field dedicated to her name Saturday on the UMass campus.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS

    Friends, family and former players of UMass Softball coach Elaine Sortino surround the infield before having the field dedicated to her name Saturday on the UMass campus.
    JOSH KUCKENS Purchase photo reprints »

  • JOSH KUCKENSFriends, family and former players of UMass Softball coach Elaine Sortino surround the infield before having the field dedicated to her name Saturday on the UMass campus.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS

    JOSH KUCKENSFriends, family and former players of UMass Softball coach Elaine Sortino surround the infield before having the field dedicated to her name Saturday on the UMass campus.
    JOSH KUCKENS Purchase photo reprints »

  • UMass Softball coach Elaine Sortino embraces Athletic director John McCutcheon as the softball field is dedicated to her name Saturday. <br/>JOSH KUCKENS

    UMass Softball coach Elaine Sortino embraces Athletic director John McCutcheon as the softball field is dedicated to her name Saturday.
    JOSH KUCKENS Purchase photo reprints »

  • UMass Softball coach Elaine Sortino poses with former player and Olympic Gold Medalist Danielle Henderson before having the field dedicated to her name Saturday on the UMass campus.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS

    UMass Softball coach Elaine Sortino poses with former player and Olympic Gold Medalist Danielle Henderson before having the field dedicated to her name Saturday on the UMass campus.
    JOSH KUCKENS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Alumni and current members of the UMass softball program pose for a picture with coach Elaine Sortino after the field was dedicated to her name Saturday.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS
  • UMass Softball coach Elaine Sortino is surrounded by friends, family and former players before having the field dedicated to her name Saturday on the UMass campus.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS
  • UMass Softball coach Elaine Sortino poses with former player and Olympic Gold Medalist Danielle Henderson and the Minuteman mascot before having the field dedicated to her name Saturday on the UMass campus.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS
  • Friends, family and former players of UMass Softball coach Elaine Sortino surround the infield before having the field dedicated to her name Saturday on the UMass campus.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS
  • JOSH KUCKENSFriends, family and former players of UMass Softball coach Elaine Sortino surround the infield before having the field dedicated to her name Saturday on the UMass campus.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS
  • UMass Softball coach Elaine Sortino embraces Athletic director John McCutcheon as the softball field is dedicated to her name Saturday. <br/>JOSH KUCKENS
  • UMass Softball coach Elaine Sortino poses with former player and Olympic Gold Medalist Danielle Henderson before having the field dedicated to her name Saturday on the UMass campus.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS

AMHERST - There are few more important foundation bricks to Elaine Sortino’s coaching philosophy than preparation.

The University of Massachusetts coach drills her team to be ready for almost any situation from running onto the field to late-game scenarios. They’re going to be ready for any moment on the field.

But no amount of preparation could have readied her for standing in the pitcher’s circle Saturday morning in the middle of the field she made possible.

Anyone with even a hint of knowledge about UMass softball knew this day was coming. Naming the UMass Softball Complex for Sortino was an obvious eventuality.

She’d accomplished too much and influenced far too many lives for it not to happen.

To someone unfamiliar with Sortino, her claims in previous years that she didn’t expect the field to someday bear her name might have sounded like false modesty.

But it was genuine because throughout her career she’s vigorously deflected attention — when she achieved any one of her countless milestones and again when she began her cancer treatments in the spring.

“I’m the type of person that likes to throw a party so I can go around and keep serving everybody and never have to be in the middle of it,” Sortino said.

But on Saturday she was the guest of honor. Across the infield from third base to first, 85 former and current players stood clapping — some with tears in their eyes. The grandstands behind home plate and the standing-room areas around the field were filled with many of the program’s long-time fans, as well as Sortino’s friends and relatives, including her sister Paula Celona and her mother Mary Sortino.

The event preceded the annual alumni game which drew a record number of former Minutewomen. Sortino has earned devotion not only from her former players, but also from those who played before Sortino started coaching in 1980.

The list of expected former players on the program didn’t include Danielle Henderson, who led UMass to two Women’s College World Series and went on to win a gold medal at the Sydney Olympics. Her absence would have been plenty excusable. Henderson just started a new job as an assistant coach at Stanford and even the former players weren’t made aware of the added significance of this alumni game until the middle of last week.

Making travel arrangements on short notice when her own team was in the middle of fall ball, wasn’t likely easy or cheap for Henderson.

But she couldn’t bear to miss the ceremony for Sortino. She bought a ticket late Friday and was on hand early Saturday morning.

“I would have been really upset if I’d missed it. It’s hard to get a flight last minute. Thank goodness for frequent-flyer miles,” Henderson said. “If anyone deserves something like this, she does.”

Before the event began, well-wishers waited in an impromptu line to say hello or take a picture with Sortino. Outside of the speeches, much of the festivities felt more like a family reunion than formal event. The former players brought not only their spouses and children, but even their dogs.

“I wouldn’t have missed it for the world,” said Kaila Holtz, a 2003 alumna and former coach, who is studying to be a doctor in her native Vancouver, B.C. “I had a feeling this might happen so I’ve had my ticket booked for months. When I think of Elaine I always think of her constant theme of always trying to be your best and raising the bar.”

Athletic director John McCutcheon served as the master of ceremonies as a black curtain was removed from the bottom of the scoreboard to reveal “Sortino Field” in black lettering on the white background.

After an introduction from assistant coach and former player Kristi Stefanoni, Sortino took the microphone.

“I always tell my players, preparation equals peace of mind, not today. Not for coach,” Sortino said.

“I’ve said many times that I have the best job in the world. I believe that,” she added. “I’ve been fortunate enough my entire life to be surrounded by, work with and serve great people that have never been afraid to constantly raise the bar. I love UMass softball because it’s all of you. My words are pathetically inadequate. I could never express what this means to me, that you have made it possible for me to remain a part of this great place forever.”

When she finished the UMass fight song blared from the speakers as the group migrated toward the scoreboard. After posing for more pictures in front of the Sortino Field sign, Sortino relaxed a bit, moving back into the comfort zone of making sure preparations were complete for Saturday night’s banquet that honored the 20th anniversary of the 1992 team that reached the Women’s College World Series, and Sunday’s golf tournament.

As the umpires got settled for the alumni game, Sortino jokingly told them to make sure the former players didn’t try to field more than three outfielders. When someone playfully asked her who she was rooting for, her former or current players, she didn’t hesitate.

“I want my team to win,” she said motioning toward the dugout of the current roster and then motioned toward the bench where the former players stood stretching and preparing in their white T-shirts.

“I don’t want to have to listen to them talk about it for the next year,” added Sortino who has returned to coaching full time as she begins her 34th season at UMass.

But while she wasn’t rooting for them on the field Saturday, Sortino has been rooting for the alumni in their lives after college. And while she’s won 1,167 games and helped get the field built that’s now named after her, she felt her greatest pride in the people she’s been involved with.

“It’s staggering. The incredible people I get to share my life with. It’s mind-boggling. I’m very, very lucky. I mean it when I say I have the greatest job in the world,” she said. “ There’s tons of great success stories. They’ve gone out and made great contributions to life. I feel great to have been a part of them. I’m an incredibly fortunate person.”

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Follow UMass coverage on Twitter at twitter.com/GazetteUMass. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.

There are no comments yet. Be the first!
Post a Comment

You must be registered to comment on stories. Click here to register.