Danielle Lawrie, the most dominant Seattle sports star in recent memory, is back in her old dugout at Husky Softball Stadium. She’s as focused as ever, only there’s no glare this time. She’s hunched over, speaking in baby talk and puckering her lips to kiss her 4-month-old daughter, Madison.
Her husband, Drew Locke, is holding their child. Her parents, Russ and Cheryl Lawrie, are a few feet behind, grinning. During her extraordinary Washington career, Lawrie became such a recognizable and well-documented superstar pitcher, transcending softball and becoming a local household name. But we’ve never seen her like this.
“I’ve always been a family girl at heart,” she said Friday afternoon.
On Saturday night, the flame-throwing family girl, added another title: Washington sports immortal. The Huskies retired her No. 15 jersey. She’s the first softball player to receive the honor and just the fifth Husky athlete ever.
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Four years ago, she completed a glorious college career in which she led the Huskies to three College World Series, earned two national player of the year awards, played for Canada in the 2008 Olympics and helped the Huskies win their first national title in 2009.
It was a no-brainer that Lawrie would be honored in such a manner. But she didn’t expect to have her jersey retired this soon, at age 27. Lawrie has always been an interesting mix of swagger and humility, an athlete who understands her ability but shuns the notion of greatness in pursuit of maximizing her talent. At Washington, she grew from a superstitious freshman who carried a piece of wood in her softball bag so that she could knock on it when necessary to a master of mental toughness.
Lawrie gave the Huskies plenty, about as much as an athlete can. But she’ll tell you she received even more.
“This is the coolest thing, being able to come back here,” Lawrie said. “I want everyone to know how thankful I am for allowing me to have this opportunity.”
Besides the national title and the dominance and the accolades, Lawrie will be remembered for her determination. That trait was clearest on May 17, 2009. En route to their championship, the Huskies played two taxing regional games at Massachusetts. For the Huskies to advance, she threw 395 pitches that day, including 251 in a 15-inning victory. That game ended at 1:18 a.m. Eastern time, with Lawrie striking out her 24th batter. And with that last whiff, she cried, overjoyed, exhausted. The team had advanced, and she knew she had defeated limitation.
“That was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do,” said Lawrie, who is from Langley, B.C. “It was the mental part of it.”
Now, she’s tackling motherhood, an even greater joy. Lawrie is still competing, playing for the Kissimmee, Fla.-based USSSA Pride of the National Pro Fastpitch women’s league. The season begins at the end of May. But Madison is her priority, so much so that she asked Pride CEO and general manager Don DeDonatis to make some special arrangements.
DeDonatis is allowing Lawrie to bring her mother on road trips to help with Madison. The team is paying for the family to have its own living space and a rental car.
It’s not an easy life to balance. Locke, her husband, is a former Class AAA outfielder in the Houston Astros’ organization. He is now working in Boston as an account manager for Oracle. The family can’t be together all the time during the summer, but the two managed to build a strong relationship even back when Locke was playing baseball, and Lawrie was playing professionally in Japan.
Lawrie says her pro softball days are numbered. She’ll play in the National Pro Fastpitch league this season and “potentially” next year. “Then,” she says, “we’ll play it by ear.”
She and her husband have plans to move to Seattle in the next 18 months. They have a five-year goal of building a baseball/softball facility in the area. Lawrie ultimately wants to develop youth softball players.
“I’m passionate about being able to give back on that level,” she said.
Ask her if she’s OK with having to transition so early in life, and she tells a story about visiting her friend, former Washington basketball star Quincy Pondexter, in Memphis recently. Pondexter plays in the NBA for the Grizzlies.
He told Lawrie, “You know, I’m really jealous. Sometimes, I just wish I could live a simple life.”
“I think I’m going to like the simple life,” Lawrie says. “Do I look at my brother (Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie) sometimes and think, ‘Man, I wish I had that’? Yes, 100 percent. But that’s not the way it is for me. The simple life has been good to me.”
That life includes a deeper relationship with Washington coach Heather Tarr. The two have always had great rapport, but now it’s “a friendship that’s going to be around forever,” Lawrie says. Her appreciation of her old college coach has grown over the years.
As a college player, Lawrie was an articulate star who captivated a region. As a 27-year-old wife and mom, she’s just as impressive. As a Washington sports immortal, she’s simply grateful.
“It’s indescribable,” Lawrie said. “You’re blown away with it. I’m lucky so many people have helped me get here.”
Amid nasty downpour, Lawrie took the field Saturday night with her family. Little Madison won’t remember the moment, but years from now, the Lockes can show their daughter the pictures and tell her about this day.
And then Madison Locke will understand what we do.
No. 15, aka Momma, was a bad woman.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277