July 21, 2009
Reprinted from the Summer 2009 Cal Sports Quarterly
As any Cal softball fan knows, there is nothing quite like the view from the stands at Levine-Fricke Field. Looking out at the lush beauty of Strawberry Canyon beyond the outfield walls, with the rolling hills, the stately green trees and the occasional family of foraging deer in the background, the serenity of the venue on a sunny weekend afternoon is truly unparalleled.
The action just inside the outfield walls this season, however, was anything but quiet and serene.
Blasting 55 home runs and scorching the base paths for 145 stolen bases, head coach Diane Ninemire's 2009 squad set school records in both categories with a combination of speed and power never seen before in Blue and Gold. The stolen base mark blew away the previous record of 104 set 30 years ago in 1979.
Though both achievements were team efforts, it is pretty easy to pick out two of the key elements to the Golden Bears' explosive season: freshman outfielders Elia and Jamie Reid, who combined for 13 of the home runs and 73 of the stolen bases. The trickier task is to be able to tell the two of them apart.
Identical twins, the Reids were the sparkplugs igniting Cal's offense and defense all season with Jamia patrolling left field and Elia in right. The lightning-fast sisters can run down just about any ball in the outfield and have been nearly impossible to stop on the basepaths. They are among the top hitters and fielders in the Pacific-10 Conference, and in the case of Jamia, the top base stealer in the league.
"When I was first looking at them as potential recruits, I was drawn to their general athleticism," said Ninemire. "They both have strong arms. They were fast. They were both still raw, but you could see the potential waiting to come out of them. They are growing and getting stronger every game they play."
The two were a very attractive recruit package deal coming out of Kennedy High School in Buena Park, Calif. Jamia held the all-time record for overall SPARQ rating (a measurement used to gauge recruits athletic training progress that includes a 20-yard dash time, a vertical jump height, a 20-yard shuttle, and a rotational power throw) and Elia was No. 2 on the list in 2008.
The Reids comprised two-thirds of the all-freshman outfield for the Bears this past season. Frani Echavarria, another fast and talented defensive center fielder, rounded out the all-rookie outfield. Running three collegiate novices into the outfield without a veteran anchor was a risk that Ninemire was willing to take.
"I wasn't really scared," said Ninemire. "I thought it would be uplifting with that type of speed and that sort of youth out there. Freshmen are going to make mistakes. It is part of the growing process, but what an exciting next three years you have with them once you get through that first year."
The maturity came quickly. With both Reids penned into the starting lineup every day, the ability to read balls coming off the bat, to better target their occasional erratic throws and to run down and glove what seemed to be certain base hits when the ball left the bat came quickly. The two combined for just one error from March 24 through the end of the regular season, a span of two dozen games.
It is easy to lump their accomplishments together, to talk about their combined numbers and their joint achievements as "the twins" or as "the freshmen," monikers that make the Reids shudder every time they hear them, but there are some decided differences between the two.
Jamia, who wears number 3 on her jersey, is a lefty slap hitter. Elia, wearing number 5, is a traditional right-handed batter. Both were members of the 2009 Pac-10 All-Freshman team, while Jamia also earned second-team All-Pac-10 and All-Pacific Region recognition.
Through most of high school, the Reids both batted right-handed, defying the traditional logic of turning all speedsters into left handed slap hitters to give them the extra first step toward first base. In their final years of club ball, however, they both became left-handed slap hitters.
"Elia started slapping first," Jamia said. "I figured, since I was the actual left hander, I should be slapping, too. So I did."
A sprained ankle and subsequent surgery, however, turned Elia back around to hitting from the right side of the plate.
"When I first started hitting left-handed, it was easy," said Elia, who hit one of three home runs in Cal's opening NCAA Regional win over Mississippi State. "After taking those months off to recover from surgery, when I went back to try to do it again, it was suddenly hard. I was thinking about it, and suddenly it was way too difficult. I kept missing the ball and all the things you aren't supposed to do, so I just went back to batting right-handed."
Both have power at the plate, with Elia belting six home runs and Jamia having seven home runs this season as a left-handed slap hitter.
"She doesn't try to power slap. It just happens," explained Elia.
"I try to hit for ground balls, but I really can't control it," Jamia laughed. "Once I hit a ball, I just start running , trying to get as many bases as possible. A lot of time with the home runs, I don't even know they are home runs until I'm at third base."
Jamia may not be able to control it, but with a team-leading .363 batting average, including a 7-for-9 performance in the NCAA Regional, this is not necessarily a bad thing.
Another of the differences between the two is their base stealing. Jamia set the Bears' single-season mark this year with 47 stolen bases. Elia, slightly more reserved on the base paths, racked up 26.
"I start with one foot on the bag and one foot behind, kind of like a track start," Jamia said, describing her routine. "I watch the pitcher's back foot. I'll rock back as her legs are going back. I go once her back foot gets off the rubber. A lot of people go off the arms; when she's at her midway point, they'll start going as she is going. Sometimes pitchers have weird windups, so you can't always do that. Their footing is always the same, so that is how I get my jumps."
Jamia also tries to anticipate pitches. Pitchers will often throw a rise ball when they predict that she will be stealing, bettering the catcher's chances of throwing her out.
"The change-up is the ideal pitch to steal on," Jamia said with the satisfied smile of someone who ranked third in the nation in steals per game this year.
Off the field, telling them apart is fairly simple. Ask anyone on the team, including the sisters themselves, the answer is the same: Jamia smiles more than Elia. "Jamia is always smiling, but she's the mean twin," Elia explained. "At least she is mean to me."
"We're mean to each other," Jamia added.
They both smile identical, loving smiles as they answer. They may be "mean" to each other, but it is nothing compared to what they did to opposing teams this past spring and what lies in store for three more seasons yet to come.