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HMG-CN FEATURE: Valerie Jorgensen’s Rocky Softball Career Culminates in Happy Ending With Artesia Punishers

FIRST BASEMAN AND PITCHER Valerie Jorgensen of the Artesia Punishers 18 Gold travel softball team is getting a new life on her softball career after going through some rough times earlier in her teenage years because of the death of her dad. PHOTO BY ARMANDO VARGAS, Contributing photographer.

 

 

BY LOREN KOPFF • @LORENKOPFF ON TWITTER

November 20, 2020

Since the age of five, all Valerie Jorgensen wanted to do was play softball, something her older sister did and what her mom wanted her to do. She started with the Buena Park Girls Softball organization before moving on to the Cypress Girls Softball organization.

Two years later, Jorgensen became a pitcher and said at that time, she knew she wanted to play the game as long as she could. Even then, her dad was actively involved with her aspirations of being a softball player.

“He came to every single one of my games,” Jorgensen said. “Because I was a pitcher, he would stand right behind the plate and if I was throwing a bad game or if I had just given up a home run, he was there to cheer me up.”

Those were the happy moments Jorgensen remembered because what she didn’t know, there would be darker days ahead. Throughout most of Jorgensen’s life, her dad had struggled with alcoholism. It wasn’t as bad as it was from when she was 10 years old to the beginning of her teenage years. Jorgensen, now 17, and her mom had moved out in January of 2017 to live with her older sister.

But his problems would progressively get worse and on April 29, 2017, when Jorgensen was in the eighth grade, her father had died. The coroner concluded he had died due to subdural hematoma as a result of falling and hitting his head one night when he was under the influence.

“Those last three years, it got very bad because him and my mom had just separated and it just made everything worse,” Jorgensen said. “My mom had to leave a couple of times for work and he had to take care of me. She would just tell us to stay home because she didn’t want me to get taken, or at times, he forgot to pick me up from games and stuff. So, my coaches would have to take me home or I would stay with my coaches. It was just rough going through that as a 10-year old to 13.”

When Jorgensen was 12, her father went to rehab but soon relapsed. A second attempt to get him to go back to rehab went to no avail. She remembers him leaving a note that he was going back to rehab, but instead he was staying at a friend’s house. The note inspired Jorgensen to get a tattoo on her right wrist with the words, ‘Love Dad”.

A sign of when Jorgensen’s father was taking a turn for the worse was when her mom began taking her to the games more and more, and because of that, had to leave work early or call out from work because the games and practices would be in the late afternoons. Even when she had early games that her father attended, Jorgensen noticed he would have a Styrofoam cup everywhere he went and figured that was not a good thing.

“Obviously, that’s a hard time for anybody to go through,” she said. “I actually quit pitching for a couple of months because as a pitcher, you need a strong mental state and I just didn’t have it at the time.”

A couple of months after Jorgensen’s father died, she started going to a new pitching coach, who wasn’t a good fit for her. Jorgensen recalled that her pitching coach told her she didn’t have any potential as a pitcher. Because of that, Jorgensen quit pitching.

“It kind of felt like I had no one who believed in me,” Jorgensen said. “I kind of was like, okay, I’m just going to quit pitching and become a first baseman and a third baseman. I’m not going to pitch; I’m not going to have a good mental state for that.”

Eventually, Jorgensen wanted to pitch again because she said she had missed it, and she knew it was her father’s favorite thing to have her daughter pitch. Jorgensen found a new pitching coach, Kendall Kincaid, whom she still goes to.

“She believes in me and she always reassures me,” Jorgensen said. “If I tell her, I had a bad weekend, she would [try] to fix it. I think I only quit pitching for six months. But I guess that’s a long time to get out of something like that.”

Jorgensen had been playing for the Ohana Tigers for a few months but said it wasn’t working out and was on the verge of quitting softball until she came to the Artesia Punishers. She went to school with best friend Bailey Jacobsen, and her sister Mikayla, both of whom are on the Artesia Punishers 18 Gold team. The elder Jacobsen sister told Jorgensen that the Punishers were looking for a pitcher and that was the beginning of Jorgensen’s life, and softball career, turning around.

“I finally had coaches who had believed in me, and it pushed me to get better and it pushed me to start pitching again and start practicing a lot every day,” Jorgensen said. “I just wanted to get better.”

Last July, Jorgensen played on the Artesia Punishers 16-Under team coached by Joseph Alvarez. It was the fourth travel softball program she has been a part of.

“She told me they needed pitching on their team and so I came, I tried out and I really liked the coaching staff,” Jorgensen said. “I talked to Bailey about it and she said that they’re a very close organization with every team and I look for that in an organization. That’s how I really knew that I was going to like it here.

“When I first met [Artesia Punishers president and head coach] Bobby [Medina], I wanted to be a part of the 18-U team,” she later said. “Ever since I was on Joseph’s team, I knew like…that’s going to be my goal; to get on the 18-U team and I wanted to be the starting pitcher for that team.”

When Jorgensen first met Medina, which was at VIP Batting, for a Wednesday night practice, she recalls they were discussing her college ambitions. When he asked her what her grades were, she told him they weren’t too good because of what she had gone through the past year.

“He said, ‘well, we’re going to take care of you here at the Punishers’,” she remembered. “That’s just something that I always remembered.”

“The first time she walked in, the coach walked in and said something about [her dad passing away],” Medina remembered. “He introduced me to her, and he said, ‘hey, here’s one of your future players’. He told me the situation and I looked at her right then and there and I told her, ‘don’t worry about it, we got your back, we’ll take care of you’.”

Jorgensen later recalled that when she began going to VIP Batting every week, she tried to impress Medina by hitting because she knew he was all about hitting and offense. When she was on Alvarez’ team, Jorgensen didn’t talk to Medina that much because, as she put it, is intimidating.

“He’s intimidating; he’s an intimidating guy, especially as a coach,” she said. “So, I really didn’t talk to him and when I did, it was always about where I am and where I want to be as a player. So, I just really tried my best to impress Bobby.”

Jorgensen said that she was an excellent student when she was in elementary school, but it all went downhill when she was in the seventh grade. During her junior high days, Jorgensen was a ‘C’ student and was mixed in with the wrong crowd.

But Jorgensen did a 180 degree turnaround in high school and when she was a sophomore, Jorgensen’s mother made her go to therapy where she opened about the struggles of living with someone who was battling with alcoholism.

“I realized that it’s not what [my father] would have wanted for me; to do bad in school and stuff,” Jorgensen said. “Then I realized I have to really turn this around so I could do good in college so I could continue to make him proud.”

“Everybody is different,” Medina said. “But as a Punisher, and something that we put together a long time ago…we’re always there to help somebody. I always tell my coaches, somebody needs help somewhere for something. And if we have the ability to do that, we do that, like handing out the Thanksgiving baskets and handing out the toys [for Christmas] and stuff like that. Not only that, we want to inspire them to be successful, and that’s what I told her.”

Because of COVID-19, travel softball teams haven’t played in too many tournaments. In fact, Jorgensen has played in two of them-the American Fastpitch Association Southwestern Nationals at the end of August in St. George, Utah, and the Surf City Tourneys Las Vegas Showcase earlier this month in which she went four for 11 with a double, a home run, three runs batted in and two stolen bases in the first four games.

“This past weekend in Vegas was probably the best tournament I have ever been to,” Jorgensen said. “This team is probably the best team I’ve ever been on because all the girls were just growing together and we’re going in a positive direction to where we want to be.”

“We know that when we’re all cheering together, especially if you’re up to bat and the whole dugout is behind you cheering, you know you’re going to do good and you’re potentially going to start a rally,” she continued. “And that’s what’s going to lead you into having good momentum in the game.”

She also said she’s ready to get back in the circle and pitch. She would have been ready to pitch in Las Vegas, but the previous weekend, she overused her arm and wasn’t sure what was wrong with it. As a precaution, assistant coaches Thomas Togia and Joe Fletcher thought it was good idea to have her rest her arm. Jorgensen does expect to pitch for Pacifica High as much as she can when the season begins in the spring as she is the team’s lone senior pitcher.

One of the goals of playing travel softball is getting recruited from a college and that’s what recently happened to Jorgensen, as she committed to Phoenix College. Medina added that Jorgensen went up to him and told him that her dream was to go to college.

“We do tell her that to succeed in college, you have to work hard, and she’s taken on the challenge,” Medina said. “She’s really working hard, offensively and pitching. She’s a good, successful player for us.

“That’s where she wanted to go to; that’s her dream school,” he later said. “Her family is going to be moving in that direction right after [high] school is over, or after August, I believe so. They’re going to the Phoenix area, right around the corner from Phoenix College. That’s where her mom wanted her to go; they have family in the area.”

With less than seven months before she graduates from Pacifica High, Jorgensen predicts the Punishers are going to do well and have a ‘very good chance’ in every tournament that they play and believes the Punishers have a team that’s worthy of competing for a Premier Girls Fastpitch championship in late July.

Because of the COVID-19 situation, the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section has allowed travel softball teams to be active at the same time as the high school softball season. That means she will have more opportunities and more games to showcase her talents before heading off to college.

 

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