PREP SOFTBALL

Oppenhuis talks it up for Illiana

2013-05-03T20:00:00Z 2013-08-20T18:19:12Z Oppenhuis talks it up for IllianaPhil Arvia Times Correspondent nwitimes.com
May 03, 2013 8:00 pm  • 

LANSING | The chatter is constant, and occasionally impenetrable. So much so, that you might wonder if the pressure of being the coach's kid has gotten to Sam Oppenhuis.

Maybe, in context, the Illiana Christian third baseman blurting out "I got my grind on" could seem to make sense.

No such luck with "Oh my mom!" Or "Dango Dango."

And what to make of the apparent confusion of, "Is this real life right now?"

Vikings pitcher Brooke Van Der Aa smiled at the mere thought of Oppenhuis' stream-of-consciousness diamond commentary.

"She's always getting us to laugh," Van Der Aa said. "It's her catch-phrases."

For the record, from the Oppenhuis-to-English Dictionary:

• "I got my grind on" is a between-innings warmup mantra.

• "Dango Dango," is a polite expletive, following, for example, a pop out.

• "Oh my mom!" Oppenhuis said, "Is just very random and funny. I say that a lot."

• "Is this real life right now?" she added, might be prompted by a questionable call from an ump.

Or, it might fall from the mouth of anyone glancing at Illiana's stat sheet. Through the last weekend of April, Oppenhuis, a four-year starter at third base for the Vikings, was hitting .521 with two homers, five doubles and 15 RBI in eight games.

But equally impressive may be the work she's done keeping her teammates engaged over a cold, wet spring that allowed them to play only those eight games in seven weeks.

"That's been one of her attributes her entire career," Illiana coach Mike Oppenhuis, Sam's dad, said. "She's always the life of the party, always a lot of fun.

"We've always said, she doesn't have an 'inside voice.'"

At least she hasn't been accused of having an inside track — the bane of many a coach's kid's existence, deserved or not.

"There's always the perception, by the other players, that they get special treatment," Mike Oppenhuis, who also coached his oldest daughter, Jocelyn, at Illiana.

Jocelyn, a pitcher, is a redshirt junior at IUPUI. But, even though she was a four-time Times All-Area team member and the 2009 Player of the Year, she encountered accusations of favoritism.

"It was more so with Jocelyn than with Sam," Mike said. "Sam seems to fit in with the rest of the kids better."

It doesn't hurt that she can mash.

"I would definitely consider myself an offensive player first," she said. "It's always been my favorite part of the game. But, I've worked on my defense a lot, and it's gotten a lot better."

In the field, Oppenhuis' strong arm is obvious.

"I'm a naturally strong person," she said. "It's easier for me to throw hard, or hit the ball hard, than it is for most girls."

And then there's the strong voice — which has elements of nature and nuture.

"I never like to lose," she said. "From my experience in softball, if you keep everyone's energy up when things aren't going well, it makes it easier to come back. Keeping a positive attitude helps a lot in softball."

According to her father, Sam has shown that attitude as Illiana's team leader and, in travel ball, as a role-player.

"To her credit, and what I think will make her successful in college, she's been on teams where she's been in a lot of designated player, designated hitter-type roles," Mike said. "She'll always play her role, even if that's not exactly how she sees herself fitting in."

The ability to adapt should serve Sam well in college. She has verbally committed to become part of the first softball team ever at Purdue University Calumet. The NAIA school launches its program in the 2013-14 school year.

Though the Oppenhuis family lives in Munster, Sam is planning on living in the dorms at Purdue Cal.

"I always wanted to have the whole college experience," she said. "Besides, all my teammates are from a lot farther away. I'd be the only one on the team not staying in the dorms."

Oh my mom. That just wouldn't do.

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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