Diamond Sharks have woman's touch; opponents say it hurts

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By Jenna McKenna

She wears the pink and black Jennie Finch Mizuno batting gloves, rocks the pink and black Mizuno mitt, even checked out the pink and black cleats at Hibbett, "but they didn't fit."

Her favorite color isn't pink, though.

Cedar Key's starting first baseman Shawna Fenton wears pink gloves because "I like to aggravate the guys - you know, let 'em know you can wear pink and play good baseball."

Fenton isn't the first girl in Cedar Key to play varsity baseball. Softball head coach Aaron Haldeman recalls in the early 90s playing on teams with Kim Penney (now CKS teacher Kim Bishop), Robin Alford (now Kolis) and Joanne Hathcox. All played for the Sharks when there were no softball teams - Alford and Hathcox as outfielders and Penney as a base-stealing pinch runner.

But Fenton is the first starting infielder for the Sharks, taking her place at the pitcher's left hand.

The Florida High School Athletic Association says that if a school offering baseball cannot or does not offer softball, girls may try out for the boys' team. This year, graduation, transfers and other factors left Sharks varsity softball without enough players to field a squad. Fenton decided to go out for baseball.

She expected to have a chance, because she'd already been through this in the winter when there almost wasn't a varsity girls' basketball team, and Haldeman, also the boys' basketball coach, told her she could play on the boys team if that was the case.

At the last minute, enough girls were found for a varsity team, so Fenton went out for cheerleading instead. But in the spring, there really wasn't a softball team. Just baseball.

Accordingly, Fenton showed up for baseball tryouts, only to be told by head coach Joe Bishop, "you can walk on. I've seen you play before."

Haldeman, this year coaching only middle school softball, said before the season that he expected Fenton to be at least "the fourth or fifth best player on the team," and that if he had his way, "she'd be the starting first baseman."

Now, at least, Fenton's reputation precedes her. But to understand how she got here, it helps to know what came first.

"I started playing baseball in CAAA (Chiefland's Babe Ruth League teams) when I was in Pre-K," Fenton says. "I just wanted to do it and I told my mom to sign me up."

She played baseball from Pre-K through fifth grade, the year she played for coach John Jordan on his 11- and 12-year-old majors team.

"She was probably a year too young then - I think she was only 10. It didn't matter, though - she could play with them," Jordan recalled recently from his spot behind the backstop at a Sharks home game.

He was the coach of the Seabreeze team that year and found himself one player short as the season was set to begin.

"My players told me, 'Don't worry coach, we know someone.' Next day, they showed up with Shawna. I sure wasn't expecting that."

Jordan got over his initial surprise when the newcomer showed amazing ability and grit.

"She was one of the best natural baserunners I've ever seen," he said. "She was pretty instrumental to that team. The rest of them had been together for about two years without winning a game, but that year we finished second in our seven-team division."

"I'd never coached a girl before, but she made a believer out of me."

Fast forward to senior year, and an unexpected opportunity. In her school career, Fenton has played softball, baseball, volleyball, run track and cheered. Except for baseball and cheer, she has been on varsity since sixth grade - always a primary contributor to her team's success.

Even playing baseball this year, facing overhand pitching for the first time in six years, her teammates and coaches agree she's an asset, contributing to wins.

"I like having her on the team," Coach Bishop says. "All the guys work harder when she's around."

She's also a valuable intangible in games - her feminine presence agitates the other team, while her ability helps her take advantage of their discomfort. She can hit the ball, and she walks a lot, with an on-base percentage over .360. She also hasn't forgotten how to run, swiping nine bags on nine tries this year.

"When I was on third base the other day, the pitcher was stressing out," she said. "I scored on him."

When Fenton graduates this spring, she'll take her bold, adventurous self into the U.S. Navy, where the only thing she knows for certain is that she'll keep playing sports.

"The recruiter told me they have all kinds of sports teams," she says. "That's good, because sports are my life."

Beyond that, the future is a big, fascinating question mark. "I'm just going to try everything and find out what I'm good at," she says.

Whether she wears Shark purple, bubblegum pink, Navy blue, or - her real favorite color - lime green, Fenton will find success on her next team.