Sydney Booker heard the voice.
“You’ve got to get a hit,” it told her.
“Oh, you have to do this,” it said.
The voice was hers; it was in her head.
Mired in a slump that saw her go hitless in more than half the games in which she had appeared – with a batting average that fell below .150 at times – the University of Alabama softball team’s shortstop couldn’t tune it out.
“It’s really tough when you’ve got a lot of socks in the top drawer,” she said, referring to those thoughts that kept running between her ears.
That voice, and the lack of production that prompted it, had cost her a regular spot in the starting lineup.
The crack of bat on ball, an RBI single up the middle in the second inning of last Sunday’s game at Mississippi State, quieted it to a whisper.
A thunderclap drowned it out. Booker hammered a solo home run to left-center in the fifth inning.
In the end, the junior from Madison had accounted for two of UA’s runs in a 3-0 victory. Those two hits, on the heels of a two-RBI double a few days earlier against Georgia Southern, upped her average to .216.
“It boosted my confidence a lot because I’ve been struggling, obviously,” she said. “That was probably the most excited I’ve been off one of my own home runs, just because I’ve been slumping and I’ve been not playing as much.
“It was really nice.”
Alabama coach Patrick Murphy has seen players slump over the years. He’s learned to treat those situations gingerly. He doesn’t want to add his voice to the one inside the struggling player’s head.
“I agonize over what to say, what not to say,” he said. “Too much, too little. Because I feel like what I might say is going to be the wrong thing, so I end up saying very little.
“I don’t want it taken the wrong way, I don’t want to be upset with her because I know it’s mainly mental.”
Booker knew she could perform. She batted .250 last season – her first at Alabama after transferring from Southeastern Louisiana – with 49 starts in 61 games. She hit one home run and 10 doubles, including two at the Women’s College World Series. As a freshman at her previous school, she had batted .362 with 49 RBIs.
So she went to work. She stayed late to take extra batting practice. She tried to keep it simple.
But the voice was always there, somewhere in the back of her mind. She tried to ignore it.
“Just swing the bat and hit the ball, swing at strikes and you’re going hit it and it will work out,” she said. “You’ve got to power through it and not let it overrun you, because it will if you let it.”
Booker turned to a visual tool for help. She watched rather than listen to her own voice.
“I pulled up videos of when I’ve done good. Kind of reaffirm myself, I guess, and just remind myself that I can do this. I went to our game film,” she said.
Booker has eight hits this season – three of them home runs, another a double – and also eight walks. She has driven in 13 runs, just six short of last season’s total.
Alabama will take the field Friday night for the first time since Booker’s big game when UA hosts South Carolina. She will probably be in the lineup. She’ll get to find out if the voice has been silenced for good.
She has taken precautions. She’s gone back to game film: specifically, that home run against Mississippi State.
“I’ve seen it a few times, actually,” she said. “It’s pretty cool.”
Reach Tommy Deas at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0224.
South Carolina at No. 9 Alabama
Where: Rhoads Stadium
Schedule: Friday at 6:30 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m., Sunday at 1:30 p.m.
Records: Alabama 28-3, 5-1 SEC; South Carolina 20-10, 1-5 SEC
Radio: 93.3 FM