1/10/2014 11:47:00 AM Illinois player becomes a softball star
By AREN DOW (Decatur) Herald and Review
WARRENSBURG, Ill. (AP) — Collin Hopkins said he doesn’t know if his friends would believe him if he told them he was one of the best softball players in the United States.
Maybe they will if he sends a postcard from Canada.
The Warrensburg-Latham senior, who wowed opposing Okaw Valley Conference hitters in baseball this past spring, has another talent up his jersey -- fastpitch softball pitching.
And Hopkins not only can do it well, his talent landed him on the 2014 Junior Men’s National Team that will travel to Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada this summer to compete for a world championship.
And it’s been a curious and very long trip to get there.
Hopkins isn’t new to fastpitch softball by any means -- by now it’s a long-standing family tradition. His grandfather coached and his father, Mike, was elected to the Illinois Hall of Fame for his abilities as a third baseman and a catcher. Collin was there nearly every step of the way across Illinois and beyond to soak in the atmosphere of the softball field.
“I basically grew up at the field, watching him and my grandpa, too,” Collin said. “I just followed him and my dad around.”
Now it’s a little surreal to follow in his dad’s footsteps.
Spending enough time around the diamond paid off. Former Decatur Pride team manager Scott Standerfer saw Collin, envisioned him a pitcher and started molding him into a dominant starter.
“He’s the one that basically got Collin the opportunity and got his foot in the door,” Mike said. “He came to pitch with us that summer, and him and Collin hit it off and started pitching.”
Even with the Hall of Fame credentials, Mike, a shortstop/third baseman/catcher, couldn’t quite teach the nuances of pitching well enough to get Collin a spot on the Junior National team. And that’s where the Hopkins started getting creative.
Through some connections, Collin and Mike found a pitching coach in California, Gary Mulligan, and started a collaboration in 2010. Every month Collin would videotape himself playing, send a 10-minute segment to Mulligan and wait for the critique.
“It was pretty stressful,” Collin said. “My first video was pretty nerve-wracking because I had never made a video before. It took me about a few videos until where I started to notice a difference.”
The lack of a coach didn’t deter his dedication. When he wasn’t at the Medalist Athletic Center in Warrensburg, Collin took an hour or so out in the garage to make his practice a daily routine. Early on, Collin said the toughest part was finding accuracy.
“The release point really,” Collin said. “I’m a baseball pitcher, too, and it’s basically just the release point that’s the toughest part. I can’t tell you how many times I tossed it 20 feet over the backstop. Now, I don’t need that at all.”
In between sending in video segments, there were tryouts that slowly whittled down the national team’s prospects. One by one, Collin passed each checkpoint during the last couple of years. Finally, after two long years of wondering if all that work would translate into a spot on the national team, he got the call saying he made one of the 17 roster spots.
Still, even if it hadn’t worked out, softball has become a way for Collin and Mike to bond.
“Words can’t express it,” Mike said. “I’m a catcher, so to play on the same field and be a catcher, and being able to catch him for those last few years of Decatur Pride was really special. My dad always coached, and I always played.”
“It’s basically a little cool club that we all have,” Collin added. “That’s the one thing that we share. And my little brother Parker, he’s 11, and he tries to pitch too.”
Coaching him as well?
“I try to, but you know brothers. You can’t tell them what to do,” Collin said.”
Now, after a two-year long tryout session, there’s still a little more waiting left to do. The national team will get together in late June for about a week to train before heading off to Whitehorse from July 11-20 to play teams from Europe, South America, Asia and Australia for the X International Softball Federation (ISF) Junior Men’s World Championship (Under-19).
And if anyone still doesn’t quite believe Collin’s accomplishments, he has the jersey with USA plastered across it for proof.
“It was something, I don’t how to describe it,” Collin said of making the team. “It was stressful not knowing for two years. But it feels great now, especially getting to wear those three letters across my chest.”