Editor’s note: The #GirlsofSummer series follows the Purple Parrots, a t-ball team in the Chillicothe area.
Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
CHILLICOTHE — As you can imagine, it was sometimes difficult for Eric Cox to corral his entire team in the same place for 45 minutes at a time this summer.
But God bless his heart, he made attempt after attempt to do so.
Cox and his Purple Parrots broke away from the way things were handled last year and created a new norm. But when you’re dealing with four, five and six-year-olds, is there every really a norm?
“It can get frustrating at times, especially when you want to, you know, practice. But when you get that age group together, they’re going to joke around,” Cox said, smiling. “We kind of changed our philosophy this season. We did 45 minutes of practice as our own team. The league held a two-hour league-wide practice once a week last summer. That just wasn’t working for us.”
During those 45-minute intervals, Emma DePugh practiced and made sure she got her time on the swingset in as well.
“Emma, from the time she got there, would be out at the playground and would occasionally come in and practice,” Cox said, laughing. “She was one of the team goofballs. But she got better. She played aggressively, wasn’t afraid to go after ground balls … she came a long way.”
That could be said of Emma on both sides of the plate … well, maybe just one side. But the effort to make her a switch hitter was there.
“Emma’s dad would try and help when he could. The first game he was at home plate, I was pitching to the girls. Emma’s left-handed and her dad tried to make her hit right-handed. He forgot she was a lefty. So she’s screaming at him, like ‘No dad, I’m on the wrong side of the plate.’ Her mom’s like yelling from the stands, ‘Tyler, she’s on the wrong side.’ She didn’t hit the ball. So the next at-bat, she hits left-handed and just smokes one.”
Payton Messer made a habit of smoking any pitch she saw. You’ll want to remember her name.
“Payton is going to be really, really special,” Cox said. “She’s such a nice kid and she loves being here. She loves to be friends with her teammates and she’s always so encouraging. Plus, she can flat hit. Like she’s going to be really good.”
Messer came through in the clutch for the Parrots time and time again this season.
With her size and skill, the league’s other coaches had fun with Cox, asking him about one of his top hitter’s actual age.
“She’s one of the tallest kids out there. So everybody’s like, ‘How old is she really?’ It was almost like the situation in Benchwarmers if you’re familiar with that movie,” Cox said, laughing. “Payton is just a lot of fun to be around.”
Then there’s Maren England, who Cox compared to the Energizer Bunny.
“Maren was high energy, very high energy,” Cox said. “She was another one of the team’s goofballs. She loved to play and loved to simply be around her teammates.”
Like many of those teammates, Maren also saw improvement in her game … whether she realized it or not.
“She definitely improved throughout the year, throwing the ball and hitting. At the beginning of the year, she struggled hitting, even off the tee,” Cox said. “It’s nice to have kids on your team who want to be a part of it. They’re encouraging to the other kids.”
Score wasn’t kept … well, unless you count in Cox’s own head … and wins weren’t tallied all season long. The Parrots played to have fun, which in the end, is what it’s all about.
But without Emma, Payton and Maren, there would have certainly been less fun had.
“We just wanted to see how we could grow as a team,” Cox said. “Emma, Payton and Maren helped us do that. I always tell the parents at the beginning of the year that, hopefully, their kids learn something about softball. But it’s also about making friends and growing. We did both.”
In Part Three of SOSA’s #GirlsofSummer series, you’ll meet three new Parrots. Make sure and ‘like’ our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter (@ohio_authority) so you don’t miss it.