Madi Simon: Hitting Her Way into College
Madi’s twelve-year journey as one of California’s most successful high school softball players
October 25, 2019
“Here comes the broccoli!” Lou Simon yelled. A plastic green ball flew from her dad across the room as 5-year-old Madison “Madi” Simon clenched a bat in her hands. She scrunched her nose at the sound of her least favorite vegetable, raised her elbow and hit the ball as hard as she could, adrenaline pumping through her blood at the satisfying crack! of the bat.
That was the first time Madi fell in love with hitting. She fell in love again and again after that first hit: when her team went 10-0 and won the Irvine Girls Softball Association division at 10 years old, when she won the Premier Girls Fastpitch National Championship at 17 years old and when she committed to Duke University to play softball three years prior at 14 years old.
The recruitment process for softball turned out to be very stressful and turbulent. Colleges were recruiting players all around Madi in as early as the seventh grade. At the time, Madi was playing on a travel softball team ranked number one in the nation, and it was not unusual for universities to follow them around during practices and games. By the time she was a freshman, Madi had received recruitment offers from multiple different colleges from Boston College to the University of Oregon. Then, Duke called. “We took the trip to North Carolina, and that was it,” said Lou. “Madi said, This is where I want to go.”
The only thing Madi may have been more certain about other than her decision to commit to Duke was her passion for softball itself. Since she was 5 years old, she has reveled in the competitive spirit of the sport, using it as a motivation to improve her swing, her speed and her leadership. “She knows that this game is driven by mental toughness,” said Lou. “That’s what she enjoys–to see how she handles being in a high-pressure situation, a game-on-the-line sort of thing.”
However, Madi’s journey was not just successful hit after successful hit. Most softball players who compete on both the Beckman team and travel team like Madi run into some obstacle large enough to pressure them into quitting at some point in their career. In times like those, the support and camaraderie of the team are ever-important.
For Madi, she confronted an obstacle at a tournament in Colorado. She found herself in a rut as she struggled with her hitting and texted one of her closest friends on the softball team, Jade Costa, for a “pre-game pep talk.” “I gave the best advice to my ability, and it ended up benefiting her,” said Jade. “Small moments like that just go to show that we always have each other’s backs, and we are ready at all times to lift one another back on their feet.”
Due to the competitive nature of the sport, teams often face the risk of creating a more negative environment than they intend. Softball is no exception. The high levels of stress during a game can affect the positivity of the team, but Madi is no stranger to competition. “Softball is really fast-paced, but I love that atmosphere,” said Madi. Players know the ability of their teammates and push each other to succeed.
That does not mean that the team never has “off” days, however. Players huddle up, address the areas for improvement and reorient themselves to focus on the game and the team. “Sometimes, it’s just as simple as cheering on the team or putting in extra work,” said Jade.
Madi has had countless teammates and coaches and friends throughout her softball journey. But, one constant through all the new teams and divisions, one of Madi’s most important supporters, the one who was constantly cheering on from the sidelines, was her dad. “No one has spent more time with her on the softball field, on long car rides, in conversations and in the teachings of the game than good ol’ dad,” said Lou.
Like Madi, Lou discovered his passion for baseball–and later on softball–at the early age of 10 and went on to play collegiate and professional baseball before transitioning to slow-pitch softball. The start of Madi’s whole career may well be thanks to her dad, the very force who pushed her into hitting with the plastic bat and balls, into the recreational league Irvine Girls Softball Association and into her undying love for softball.
Despite Madi’s wholehearted dedication to softball, the rest of the world does not always agree with her prioritization of the sport. The inequality among different players in the professional world shocks her. While professional baseball players have the well-known and popular Major League Baseball (MLB), professional softball players have a smaller league, National Pro Fastpitch (NPF), and get paid less.
Nevertheless, Madi does not waver in her love for the sport. “I want to make an impact and inspire others to be the best they can,” she said. Whether it be persevering with a sport or committing to a league despite the fewer personal benefits, Madi wishes to encourage people to follow their passion. In the end, it is the people, the team and the sisterhood that draw Madi to softball, and she feels as at home on the softball field as she knows she will on Duke’s campus.
Madi has verbally committed to Duke University and is waiting for the official signing day to confirm her commitment in the spring.