Walk into PepsiCo Enrico Pavilion in the middle of winter, and you might want to be careful. The indoor practice facility on Babson College’s campus is often where spring sports teams decamp when they can’t practice outside in the cold and snow.
When the softball team is in PepsiCo, the space fills with motion. Players throw and run and field. Balls fly through the air. “Keep your head up,” advises Dave Canan, who is entering his 24th season as the team’s head coach. “We do live hitting. You never know where the ball will go.”
Spring can feel so far away during the interminable winters of New England, but to step into PepsiCo and hear the ping of a bat and the pop of a ball into a glove is to be reminded that spring is a lot closer than you might think.
Work to Do
The softball team began training for the upcoming season at the tail end of January, and whenever they can, the players practice outside at MacDowell Field, whose artificial turf surface also is used in the winter by the baseball and men’s and women’s lacrosse teams. The softball team’s regular home, Alumni Field with its grass outfield and clay infield, is typically icy or muddy this time of year.
The softball team generally follows a simple rule: If it’s at least 35 degrees and not raining, they go outside. “We look at the weather forecast every single day,” says Jenna Putala, the team’s assistant coach.
The frigid reality of winter, however, dictates that they are often inside. On a recent Tuesday afternoon, with snow on the ground and the air crisp, the team gathers in PepsiCo dressed in their uniforms, with socks pulled up to their calves and batting gloves hanging out of their back pockets. Helmets and bats line the floor, along with a stray baseball or two, left over from the baseball team’s practice.
In just 10 days, the softball team will play its first game of the season, as part of a long weekend getaway to the warmth of Texas. “We are all counting down the days until we can play,” says outfielder Abrianna Natoli ’22.
Until then, there is work to do. The players move from one drill to another. They mimic hitting a pitch and running to first base. They grab ground balls. They practice taking a lead from a base. From a bucket, Putala tosses a ball to Canan, who hits it to a fielder, who then snags it and fires it to a player’s outstretched glove standing at first base.
A Better Player
The 15,000-square-foot PepsiCo is roomy, and compared with outside, warm. Not that this is the same as being at their home, Alumni Field. After all, there is no grass and dirt under their feet. “It’s about being flexible,” says outfielder Caroline Taylor ’24. “This is completely different from a field.”
The players who have it the toughest inside are the outfielders. A large nylon curtain divides PepsiCo in half, and on one side the outfielders gather. They make long throws to each other across the length of the facility, and then run after balls thrown to the far-flung reaches of the space.
Try as they might, though, they can’t quite mimic the high fly balls they will need to catch during an actual game. The ceiling won’t allow it. “The majority of the balls hit to us in games go higher than the PepsiCo ceiling,” says Natoli, “so there is only so much of a real game we can re-create when we are indoors.”
To practice inside may not be ideal, but for spring sports at Babson, PepsiCo offers a welcome space to drill, to sweat, to prepare. “You are still working hard,” says Athena Hadjipanayis ’25, a utility infielder. “It makes me a better player.”
Eventually, softball practice culminates in pitching and batting, with screens set up to protect against flying balls. Players wear their batting helmets, and on the back of them are the initials: T.R.A.I.T.S.
That acronym refers to the team’s core values, which the players, standing together, recited before practice started. Those values—trust, respect, accountability, integrity, toughness, and selflessness—will stand the team in good stead from the dead of winter to the promise of spring.
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