June 15, 2005 - Kortney Smith won't just be circumnavigating bases on the softball field this summer, she'll be doing so while circling the globe.
Smith and three teammates from the Arizona Roadrunners 18-and-under squad will head to China as members of the Just Softball 16U team. The team, which consists of Roadrunners players and a team from California, will head to Beijing from Aug. 13 to Aug. 22.
"It's a chance in a lifetime," said Roadrunner head coach Bob Hamacher. "It's a chance to play the sport you love and go to a place you'd never go otherwise."
When Just Softball coaches Deb Hartwig, a former assistant at San Diego State, and Susie Parra, who pitched the University of Arizona softball team to three national titles in the early '90s, approached Hamacher about possible players for their team, Smith was a natural fit.
"All four were easy choices. Some of the other ones aren't quite as polished."
Smith, a standout on this year's Marana High School softball team, is joined on the international travel squad by Kaitlin Freeland, of Pusch Ridge Christian Academy, and Elissa Zeches and Emma Dunlap, of Sabino High School.
Last year's Just Softball squad traveled to Australia to compete.
The quartet is a major reason why the Roadrunners, who play under the umbrella of the Arizona Softball Association, have entered this season as the reigning No. 3 seed in the nation. This season, the Marana-based Roadrunners are 15-1-2.
Smith is hitting .379 on the season with 13 RBI and 11 hits in the team's 16 games. Although she doesn't lead the team in any offensive categories, the well-rounded center fielder's biggest contribution to the squad may be her enthusiasm for the game.
"She's tremendous," Hamacher said of the senior-to-be. "She's got a canon for an arm. She runs really well. She may be a little too intense sometimes, but you try to control it without taking it away, that's the tough job."
Smith said she's trying to harness her passion for the game, which she inherited from her brother, Kyle.
After her brother got a baseball scholarship, his career on the diamond ended abruptly when he tore his rotator cuff.
"It's kind of like I'm doing it for him," Smith said, "to take on his dream."
Freeland can empathize with Smith's older brother.
For the Pusch Ridge sophomore, who splits time as the Roadrunners' shortstop and second baseman, the trip is particularly rewarding. Toward the end of the high school season, as the Lions were making their run to runner-up in Class 2A, Freeland separated the tendons on her left hand while sliding into a base, effectively ending her high school season. Freeland has resumed playing with the Roadrunners, hitting .500 in her first eight games back.
For players such as Smith, Freeland, Dunlap and Zeches, softball is a year-round affair. The season for them will begin with high school ball and will continue through summer, fall and winter with club leagues. Once the foursome returns from China, they will have fewer than three days before the fall league kicks off. In China, the girls will be guaranteed participation in at least nine games against competition from all over the world.
Although they practice at Continental Reserve Park, the majority of the Roadrunners' games are played on the road. Only two of the team's 10 weekend tournaments will be held in Tucson.
China isn't the most cost-friendly destination for those who need to raise the funds. To obtain the $2,500 for airfare, hotel stays and food, Smith is asking for donations from the community. She recently appeared before the Marana Town Council to ask for support.
Smith should have experience addressing the council; she's a member of the Marana Teen Advisory Council, which is modeled after the regular town board.
Other members of this year's Roadrunners squad from the Northwest include Ashley Bryan, of Mountain View High School, and Sylvia Leon and Andrea Bratton, who are teammates of Smith at Marana.