When you meet Abby Kotula you’re impressed with a couple of things. First, she’s petite. Second, you quickly find out she’s determined and intelligent. Trained in music, gymnastics and dance, she has a way of approaching life with confidence born of thorough preparation.
An athlete for as long as she can remember, Abby has played baseball, softball, volleyball, basketball and is currently a three-sport athlete at Shelter Island School. This past fall, in her first year of high school, she was a member of the cross country team, the cheer team and this spring is pitching and playing second base on the JV baseball team, the only girl on the roster.
Last year she played on the varsity softball team as an 8th grader. Her quick reflexes and calm under pressure made her an asset at the hot corner of third base and her speed also made her valuable as a courtesy runner.
This year she chose to play baseball. Having played hardball since early elementary school, she says the pitching style appeals to her more. The straightforward nature of the team is also a bonus.
There is a limited precedent of older girls playing baseball on Shelter Island. Jayme Clark, class of 2013, played one year when there wasn’t a softball team. Nicole Clark, class of 2004, was an outstanding ball player on All-Star teams throughout her Little League career. However, in high school she was not allowed to play because softball was an option.
These days there is a procedure for athletes to petition to play on teams normally composed of players of the other gender. Abby passed the protocols and is happy to be playing baseball for Shelter Island.
Although the team ranges from 7th grade to seniors, most are 9th and 10th graders, boys Abby has played sports with her whole life. Coach Peter Miedema says that Abby fits well on the team. “She is definitely right in there with the rest of the team,” he said. “They tease and rib one other, carry equipment and she is right in the thick of it.”
When asked if she brings anything special to the team Abby quickly replies, “Spirit. In Little League we had to demonstrate that we were in ‘ready’ position by doing a little dance a visible sign to the coach that we were down and ready. I’ve brought that to the baseball team and everyone does it — it’s fun.”
When asked if she has a favorite baseball player, she responded, “Well, I wear number 2, so Derek Jeter is one of my favorites.”
Her dad, Ed Kotula, who also played baseball in high school, wore the same number.
Coach Miedema said Abby is a hard worker, and a thinker. “She knows what she is doing out there,” he said. “She doesn’t just react, she knows the situations and makes the right play.”
A lefty, Abby features a fastball and circle change up, and is working on a curve ball. Coach Miedema says that like all young pitchers, Abby is working on consistency in her motion and working on placement.
She pitched two innings in a recent 13-6 Greenport win, earning two strikeouts. Interestingly, there was a female umpire at that game. The ump is a competitive softball player, but expressed to Coach Miedema that she always wished she could continue in baseball.
I asked Abby if she felt she is an inspiration to people who want to try things out of the norm. “I didn’t join the team to be a role model,” she said, “I just like the game and want to play.”
She paused and added with a smile “People come up to me all the time and tell me it’s cool that I’m playing with the boys. But really it’s all about playing baseball.”