Alexis Osorio was 10 years old the first time she visited the state of Alabama. Her softball team had made it to nationals.
“I got really lightheaded and passed out in the outfield,” she said. “I don’t remember anything after that.”
Well, she does remember one thing: “It was in Auburn.”
She made up her mind when she came around in her hotel bed: “I told my parents I would never come back to Alabama because it’s so hot in the summer.”
The University of Alabama’s ace pitcher from Riverside, California, is now a junior. And she’ll be pitching against Auburn this weekend when the Tigers visit Rhoads Stadium for a three-game series.
“It’s funny how I ended up coming back here,” she said.
Hearing the seams
Alabama coach Patrick Murphy didn’t know about that incident when he set out to recruit Osorio. Murphy credits former UA pitching coach Vann Stuedeman, now head coach at Mississippi State, for noticing her talent. She saw Osorio in the fall of her freshman year of high school.
Stuedeman came back excited: “Oh my God,” she said, “I saw this kid and you could hear the seams as it came into home plate because the spin of the ball was so terrific.”
Said Murphy, “She never really said that about anybody else. She didn’t really throw gas. The spin was incredible.”
That riseball continued to bite, and Murphy made Osorio a priority. She was playing for an elite travel-ball team, the Corona Angels. He went to see her play and asked her coach, “When am I going to get an Angel?”
The coach asked, “Which one do you want?”
Murphy pointed: “That one right there.”
The coach told him to get in line. Murphy responded, “I am.”
Alabama persuaded Osorio to visit campus the next fall.
Murphy arranged for the pitcher and her family to meet Nick Saban. They arrived before UA’s head football coach, who was in a meeting, and were ushered into his office. The secretary encouraged her to try on Saban’s trademark straw hat.
As everyone took phone pictures, Saban walked in.
“I thought I was going to get fired,” Murphy said.
The entire room turned to face the iconic coach. There was a pause. Murphy could feel his heart beating.
Saban smiled. “You look pretty good,” he said.
The coach had carved 12 minutes out of his schedule. He talked football with the father. He charmed the mother and the player.
It made an impression. Osorio went back to California with her mind made up.
Her travel-ball coach has a rule that before committing, a player needs to give him five legitimate reasons why she picked the school. And once she commits, that’s it: If the player backs out on the college, she is kicked off the Corona Angels team.
Murphy was at a steakhouse with his coaching staff when Osorio called. He had his phone on silent. He realized she had called seven times.
“I said, ‘Guys, she ain’t calling me seven times to say no,’” Murphy said. “So I turned it back on and she called back … and she said, ‘Coach, this is Alexis Osorio and I want to be the first pitcher at Alabama to win a national championship. I accept your offer.’
“We went crazy in the restaurant. Everybody thought we were nuts, probably.”
That spring, in 2012, Alabama won its first softball national title. It happened before Osorio had arrived on campus, so she couldn’t be the first.
But she kept her commitment, and she made an immediate impact.
The 5-foot-8 right-hander earned All-America honors as a freshman and was a force in taking the Crimson Tide to the Women’s College World Series in each of her first two seasons.
This year, she leads the SEC in strikeouts with 255. She has a 1.37 earned-run average and has held opponents to a collective .126 batting average. You can still hear the seams.
Her record, however, is 19-7. Alabama’s pitching has been strong, but the offense has not produced.
On a rainy Sunday with no game last weekend at Ole Miss, Murphy had every UA box score printed out: all 51 of them. He wanted to underscore to his hitters how they were letting down the pitchers. He went through them, game by game.
“Great start, great start, great start,” he said. “I said, ‘Guess how many were poor starts.’ Two. That was it.”
Osorio has started 22 games, and only one of those was a bad outing.
If she is feeling frustrated, however, you wouldn’t know it by her body language. Osorio wears a blank expression when she pitches.
Call it California cool.
She’s the same way around her team. She doesn’t project much.
“Even now, I mean, three words maybe,” Murphy said. “I’ll ask, ‘How you doing?’ ‘Fine.’
“You’d never look at her and say, ‘Oh wow, she’s competitive,’ but inside it’s churning big-time.”
Every so often, the façade will crack. Osorio will show a glimmer of emotion.
“You know she was really going after that girl and it was a big out because you’ll get a little smile,” catcher Reagan Dykes said. “It’s not much, but, hey, it fires me up.”
A new home
Osorio has pitched through the sweltering southern heat without complaint, but won’t have to worry about that this weekend with temperatures expected to range between the 50s and the mid-70s.
She has come to like Alabama.
“The state is so pretty,” she said. “All this green and stuff, I’m not used to that.”
She likes the slower pace, the college-town life. It has come to feel like home.
In fact, the girl who swore she’d never, ever come back to Alabama had forgotten about that by the time she was being recruited.
“It didn’t even cross my mind that I said that when I was 10 years old,” she said. “I think that’s kind of cool.”
California cool. Even in the humidity.
Reach Tommy Deas at email@example.com or at 205-722-0224.
No. 9 Auburn at No. 14 Alabama
Where: Rhoads Stadium
Schedule: Friday at 7 p.m., Saturday at 7 p.m., Sunday at noon
Records: Alabama 39-13, 11-9 SEC; Auburn 43-8, 15-6 SEC
TV: ESPN on Saturday; ESPN2 on Sunday
Radio: 93.3 FM