Lauren Bay Regula is as surprised as anyone to be at Softball City this week, surrounded by cheering fans, some of the best fastpitch players on the planet, and flags of 31 countries waving in the distance.
The atmosphere at the 2016 Women’s World Championships is not new to the Trail, B.C. native – Bay Regula is one of Team Canada’s most experienced veterans, and one of just four holdovers from the 2008 Olympic team – it’s just that, until recently, she figured that part of her life was in the rearview mirror.
The 34-year-old left-handed pitcher had been retired from competitive softball for eight years when an email from Team Canada head coach Mark Smith arrived in her inbox last February.
Smith was looking to flesh out his team’s pitching staff with world championships on the horizon, and asked Bay Regula – sister of former Major League Baseball slugger Jason Bay – if she was interested in returning to the fold.
Her initial reaction? No way.
After all, she’d been away from the game for eight years, now had three young children, and, with her husband, had just started a new business in their new hometown of Akron, Ohio – a gym and athletic performance centre called TrAk Athletics.
“It popped up kind of out of nowhere,” she explained of the national team inquiry.
“I was about to write back that there was just no way I could do this, but I give all the credit to my husband – he suggested I sleep on it.
“It took me a couple weeks to figure out what I wanted to do – even just logistically, could I do it with family and the business? It was my husband who said, ‘We’ll figure it out.”
Before committing, she also dug out her glove and threw a few pitches “just to see if I could still toss underhand.”
And while remembering her throwing motion wasn’t exactly like riding a bike – “there was some rustiness here and there,” she said – the transition back to pitching was relatively painless.
“Even though eight years had gone by, I picked it back up again – I’d just done it for so long,” she said.
“I can’t say my skills were that sharp, but I felt like it wasn’t that long ago. As a super-competitive person, I’m somewhat of a perfectionist, so I can be hard on myself. But I was really happy that I could pick up a ball and throw it well enough to still be here on the team.”
So far, she has looked right at home in the pitcher’s circle for Canada, wearing her familiar No. 3 jersey. She’s been a key member of the team all summer – from warm-up games in California and an exhibition tour of Japan, to the World Cup of Softball earlier this month in Oklahoma.
This week in South Surrey, Bay Regula – the team’s ace pitcher in her first go-round with the national program – has pitched in primarily in relief, though she did start Wednesday night against Puerto Rico, striking out 8 in a 10-0 win.
In the team’s tournament opener against Great Britain, she threw three innings in relief of starter Sara Groenewegen, and also came out of the bullpen Monday night in a 6-1 loss to Venezeula.
And while her skills on the field are up to her lofty standards, Bay Regula said it’s also off-the-field that she’s felt at home – even with her family often thousands of miles away.
It’s a feeling she didn’t think she’d missed.
“When you grow up on a team – and always been on a team – you definitely miss that atmosphere when you leave,” she said. “But as soon as I was done playing, we started a family. so a lot of my time was consumed with that, so it doesn’t leave you with a lot of time to miss things like softball. I was so out of softball-mode, and into mommy-mode and business-mode.”
Since being back on the squad, she said she’s been careful not to step on any of the other veterans’ toes in the leadership department, or interfere with the team’s “awesome” chemistry in any way.
“The team’s had so much success, so my goal coming in was to not disrupt that in any way, because I’d been gone for so long,” she said. “It’s crazy – I was one of the older players back in 2008. Now I guess I’m the grandma of the team.
“I try to lead by example, just in the way I carry myself, but I’m not going to come in here and start talking over the veterans who’ve been here this whole time… I’m still just trying to find my spot and fit in where I can.”
And while time away from her children has been tough – the national team has been on the road for more than a month – Bay Regula said she has had a few opportunities to fly back to Akron.
Her children may not even miss her, she joked.
“My kids have had the summer of their lives, too. As a mom, you always think they need you there every five minutes, but they’re great,” she said.
“They’re with my parents right now at Christina Lake, and they’ve been with my husband’s parents (in the U.S.). We have a great babysitter who comes – they’ve been at the pool, all these places. Their schedule’s been packed – I’m sure they don’t even want me to come back.”
With the championship round-robin portion of the world championships having wrapped up Thursday, Bay Regula and her teammates now face the championship-round elimination bracket, which begins today (Friday).
Elimination games – division winners have “double-life” while second-place teams are eliminated after just one loss – are scheduled for today and tomorrow, with the championship game set for Sunday at 6 p.m.
For up-to-date results and schedule, visit www.surrey2016.com