Sports

Mariners' ball girls are also Eastlake fastpitch state champs

From left to right, Katie Bunger, Kelsey Leaverenz, Stephanie Fox and Kimi Pohlman jump for joy on the Eastlake fastpitch field. The foursome are all Mariner ball girls this season. - Mark Lowry/Reporter
From left to right, Katie Bunger, Kelsey Leaverenz, Stephanie Fox and Kimi Pohlman jump for joy on the Eastlake fastpitch field. The foursome are all Mariner ball girls this season.
— image credit: Mark Lowry/Reporter

Eastlake’s “fearsome foursome” of Stephanie Fox, Kaitlyn Bunger, Kelsey Leaverenz and Kimi Pohlman know what it’s like to be on the top of the softball world after winning the 4A state fastpitch title two weeks ago.

Now the seniors get to end their high school careers by sharing one more special bond.

The four are part of a select group of 11 Seattle Mariner ball girls who shag foul balls at Safeco Field — a job that results in cheers and sometimes jeers.

“If you make a nice play, they’re impressed ... but getting booed, that sucks,” Bunger said.

They were selected after the Mariners asked Eastlake head coach George Crowder whether he had any outgoing players who were strong fielders. Crowder provided a list, the girls went in for a tryout in March, and the rest is history.

“It’s been really fun,” Leaverenz said. “You get to interact with a lot of the fans. You literally have the best seats in the house.”

The Eastlake players rotate the games they work, trying to time it so they work together as much as possible. The experience has been a thrill, but is still sinking in for some.

“I remember being a little girl and watching Mariner games and being like ‘I want to do that,’” Fox said. “But you never think that you’d get the opportunity to do it.”

While on the field, the girls have certain responsibilities, including shagging foul balls and running jackets back from the bullpen when there’s a pitching change. They also have to follow a certain set of rules, including no talking to the players unless they speak to them, always smile, never step on the grass and most importantly never get in the way of a play — something Fox learned the hard way in her second game.

“There was this one foul ball and it was kind of high and my first instinct was to catch it because I play softball ... then I look over at this guy selling ice cream (where) you’re supposed to hop over the ledge,” she said. “It was too late and I heard this stomping and it was Richie Sexson charging my way, so I just hid in the corner.”

Fox said Seattle’s 6-foot-8 first baseman stopped just a few feet away from her and she didn’t interfere with the play, but she no longer hesitates when hopping over the ledge — ice cream man or not.

In the same game, Pohlman’s first time working, she also had a couple of interesting encounters.

“The first ball ever hit in my general area was a line drive ... it bounced and came shooting up past my head and hit a guy in the face,” she said. “I wanted to cry, but he was fine about it, giving me a hard time.”

After switching from the first base line to third base line in the middle of the fifth inning, Pohlman ran into another problem when a young fan asked her to hand him a ball.

“I get a ball and I go and hand it to the kid and he looks at it, and I’m about to go sit down and he throws it back on the field,” she said. “I had to run and go get it and I turn around and give it to another kid, and I got booed.”

While there have been a few embarrassing moments, the positive experiences have far outweighed the negative.

“It’s really fun, and it’s cool to be around so many people,” Bunger said. “Little kids come up to us to take pictures and have us sign autographs.”

The girls aren’t allowed to talk to the players, but players occasionally go out of their way to joke with them. Fox recalled a brush with Boston’s Manny Ramirez, while Bunger said she had a conversation with Detroit Tiger manager Jim Leyland.

Perhaps the best part of the experience is getting to tell people they get paid minimum wage to do the job.

“People are like, ‘Do you get paid for this?’ I’m like ‘Yeah isn’t that cool?’” Bunger said.

The girls have known each other since grade school. They were all on a 9- and 10-year-old Little League all-star team that won the state title, then drifted apart. Bunger moved to Arizona for a while and Pohlman attends The Bear Creek School in Redmond. Pohlman didn’t play high school softball until this season because Bear Creek doesn’t have a program. She decided it would be best to experience high school softball before she heads to the University of Washington next year to play for the Huskies. The bond between the four players has been reforged, and they said they couldn’t think of a more unique ending than the Mariner gig to wrap up a historic season.

“It’s a great way to end your senior year,” Fox said.

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