Baylor's Reagan pushes limits to play
Torn ACL doesn't stop senior from finishing her softball career on field
The ACL in her right knee was torn, but Baylor senior All-American Brette Reagan was not about to go quietly after playing just the first 22 games in her final college season.
Reagan doesn't really do quiet.
Hikers making their way through grizzly bear country are advised to clap or shout as they approach blind turns to ward off any unwanted encounters with the ursine natives. Alternatively, they could save their voices and just bring along Baylor's best Bear.
She is loud; she is hyper; and, with 40 home runs and a .360 career average, she's good.
So when the player whom coach Glenn Moore last year favorably compared to a toddler, describing how she could be buzzing around an airport waiting area one minute and fast asleep in the middle of the team's bags the next minute, found herself confined to the dugout after the knee injury this season, it wasn't good times for anyone.
"It was really hard being in the dugout," Reagan admitted recently over the phone. "I think I got from the coaching staff a couple of times, like, 'Will you shut up for a minute?' It was just one of those things that you've got to take it."
Interjected Moore from the background, "We had to get her back out there, just to be able to get her out of the dugout."
The mood was considerably less jovial two months ago, as Reagan lay on the ground near second base, her career potentially having come to an abrupt and unfortunate end.
Locked in a scoreless game against Washington, which was ranked No. 1 at the time, Reagan was on second base with two outs and teammate Courtney Oberg waiting at the plate with a 2-0 hitter's count. Knowing any run might be the winning run in a pitchers duel, she wanted to get a good jump off second to try to score on a hit to the outfield. But when Oberg swung and missed at the next offering, Reagan's eagerness cost her as she reversed course back toward the bag.
"I remember the catcher from Washington was the only girl that's ever picked me off, and that was my freshman year, so a little history there," Reagan said of Alicia Blake. "And I just kind of remembered saying, 'You better get back; she's got an arm and she will pick [you off].' And by that time, I had just collapsed over and slipped to the ground, holding my knee and repeating, 'No.'"
Her instincts were confirmed when an MRI revealed the extent of the damage to the knee, which also included a bone bruise and a partially torn meniscus. Losing a player of her caliber would have been a significant blow for any team, but it was doubly damaging for Baylor.
Moore's starting lineup against the Huskies included three freshman position players and Whitney Canion, the team's freshman ace. A win against Florida in the season's opening weekend, the first nonconference home loss for the Gators in the regular season in nearly two calendar years, showed what kind of potential the Bears had to bounce back from a disappointing 2008 season. And with a voice that carries about as far as the balls she pulls into the gap, Reagan's presence in the box score was only part of her contribution.
In the game in which she got hurt, the Bears were in position for another sizable upset. They couldn't push across a run against the Huskies, but they put eight runners on base against Danielle Lawrie, while Canion struck out 14 through seven scoreless innings of regulation. But after Washington pushed across the winning run in the bottom of the eighth, Baylor went on to lose the weekend's remaining four games -- two against Alabama and two against Georgia -- by a combined 35-2 margin.
"The rest of the weekend, we didn't belong in the tournament," Moore said of the four-team event hosted by Alabama. "So that shows you right there how significant a part of the team she was. It was a psychological blow to this team."
It wasn't so easy on Reagan, either, in the hours and days immediately after the injury.
"I went through kind of an emotional rollercoaster," Reagan said. "Sometimes I would be my outgoing, funny self, and then the next thing, I would be thinking about this summer and not knowing if I would get a chance to play [professionally]. And it kind of hit me emotionally. I tried not to show it, as much as I could, around the team, around anything to do with softball, just because I didn't want to have a selfish moment."
Having played too many games to redshirt and return for a fifth year, and eager to suit up this summer for the Philadelphia Force in National Pro Fastpitch, the five-team professional league, Reagan's options were limited. But when the idea of postponing surgery and rehabbing the injury enough to get back on the field was broached, doctors told her it was physically feasible and worth a shot. So began an exhaustive rehab program -- by her own estimation, she logged about 100 hours in the first four weeks after the injury, strengthening the hamstring, quadriceps and other muscles around the knee to stabilize the leg.
"I've been coaching long enough to see some kids that weren't made of the same things that Brette is made of kind of hang it up when they were injured -- less significant injuries than Brette," Moore said.
She did her best to remain a presence in the dugout, especially for Canion, who ranks fifth in the nation in strikeouts per seven innings and whom Reagan took under her wing early on. When Reagan had to skip the team's opening conference road trip to Texas Tech to focus on rehab, she addressed the team on the bus in the moments before it headed to Lubbock. (In a mild surprise, she used the bus's public address system, according to Moore.) But her focus was first and foremost on getting back in the batter's box, something she was cleared to do against Texas State on April 7.
"I felt like the first time I was playing softball again, actually, to be honest with you," Reagan said. "I was really giddy and pretty happy just to have a chance and a shot to be back in the box and a chance to swing the bat. It's crazy how much you miss the game being out with an injury or something else holding you back. But as soon as I got back in there, I didn't take anything for granted. I kind of learned a lot from this injury."
It's crazy how much you miss the game being out with an injury or something else holding you back. But as soon as I got back in there, I didn't take anything for granted. I kind of learned a lot from this injury.” -- Baylor's Brette Reagan
Moore's best-case scenario involved simply getting Reagan's bat back in the lineup, so it came as a surprise when trainer Michael Deal -- who both player and coach said deserved much of the credit for the rehab success -- approached Moore about getting Reagan some innings in the field. A little less than seven weeks after tearing the ligament, and two weeks after returning to the batting order, Reagan was back at third base for the late innings of the team's game against Texas-San Antonio on April 21.
And because mobility hasn't been an issue, she hasn't budged from that spot since.
Having done the work to get back on the field, the number of games remaining in Reagan's career is out of her hands again. Baylor will earn an invite to the NCAA tournament, even if it doesn't win the Big 12's automatic bid as the No. 4 seed in the conference tournament, which Baylor begins Saturday against Texas A&M. But getting back to a super regional or the Women's College World Series, in which Reagan played as a sophomore, won't be easy -- particularly without freshman Kayce Walker, who was hitting .413 when she suffered a torn ACL on April 19.
But wherever and whenever it ends for Reagan, don't expect her to let the Bears go quietly.
"You can't have any regrets out there and take anything for granted because you never know -- a simple leadoff from a base and [you] could have something like this happen to you."
Graham Hays covers softball for ESPN.com. E-mail him at Graham.Hays@espn3.com.