Remember when New York Mets infielder Daniel Murphy was chastised for taking paternity leave, and missing two games to be present for the birth of his first child? Enter the world of women’s professional sports, where the birth of a child from a female athlete can mean missing an entire season. Where returning from maternity leave takes a little more than just finding daycare. And where returning to compete against the world’s best takes commitment from the whole family and team.
On May 31st 2014, Danielle Lawrie threw her first pitch in almost two years. That pitch symbolized more than a strike to the Pennsylvania Rebellion leadoff hitter. It symbolized the two year journey of softball’s newest mom as that first pitch came just five and a half months after Lawrie had given birth to her first child.
Lawrie and her husband Andrew Locke gave birth to Madison Nicole Locke on December 16, 2013. Five weeks later, the two-time NCAA National Player of the Year, did what many new moms do—she went back to work. Returning from maternity leave in the corporate world is one thing. Returning from maternity leave in professional sports is another. Lawrie had five months to get back in playing shape to compete against the world’s best. This meant a full regime of cardio, weights, and oh yeah—live pitching! All while embracing the new world of motherhood.
Danielle Lawrie has never been a stranger to hard work. She worked out throughout her pregnancy, something she advises all new moms to do. “I worked out as long as I could until I was 38 weeks and that was the best possible thing for delivery and for recovery. As hard as it was, I really owe a lot to what I did during my pregnancy.” Five weeks after giving birth to Madison, or “Maddie”, Lawrie was back to working out. “I started working out at that five week mark where I could start doing cardio. Two and a half months out, I really started to amp it up.” Amping it up included traveling to nearby Boston College to throw live. Newborn Maddie traveled with her.
The story of Danielle Lawrie’s pregnancy has been a hard road from the beginning. Lawrie learned of her pregnancy last April while playing for Toyota Shokki in the Japan Softball League (JSL). Sounds simple, except that the pregnancy test Lawrie took was in Japanese and she had no idea what it initially read. To make the situation harder, her entire family was back in North America (Lawrie is originally from British Columbia, Canada and her husband Andrew is from Boston), so perhaps the biggest news in Lawrie’s life was discovered while alone.
“I‘ve had emotions in the game before and being nervous with your heart racing but nothing compared to reading that test. And it was like is this a yes or no? And here I am all alone in Japan.”
Fortunately Google and her Japanese translator helped Lawrie read the test and confirm she was in fact pregnant. Lawrie immediately called Locke to tell him the big news. Lawrie had full intentions of completing the first half of the JSL season (which ends in late May), but a blood clot in her uterus, and two weeks of bed rest sent her home early.
It was during that time at home, and a trip to a USSSA Florida Pride game when Lawrie realized she hadn’t thrown her last pitch. “When I came back to visit last summer, I really noticed how much I missed the girls and felt like I should be here. I couldn’t end on having that feeling in my stomach of just not finishing on my own terms.”
After giving birth to Maddie, and missing the entire 2013 National Pro Fastpitch (NPF) season Lawrie was determined to pitch again. Her phone call to USSSA Pride General Manager, Don DeDonatis, was a welcomed one. “I watched Danielle develop through her career as a pitcher from college championships to a seasoned veteran on the Pride. I honestly thought once she got married and started to grow her family that she would be moving on and putting her softball career aside. So you can imagine my excitement in receiving the call from Danielle just a few short months after giving birth to Maddie,” said DeDonatis.
Beyond the training, there was one other major element that needed to be addressed….Who would watch Maddie? The only way Danielle could play was if her mom Cheryl could travel with her for the summer to watch Maddie and if DeDonatis could make accommodations for Maddie and Cheryl during the summer. “She had talked about coming back this summer to play and the only way she would be able to come back was if I could travel with her and look after Madison. I was willing but had to talk it over with my husband and also my boss” said Cheryl Lawrie, Danielle’s mom.
The Lawrie family is no stranger to professional sports. Danielle’s brother Brett Lawrie plays third base for the Toronto Blue Jays. And it was Danielle’s husband Andrew, a former minor league baseball player himself, who was the first to encourage Lawrie’s return. They all understood Danielle’s desire to return and end her career on her own terms. It was a sacrifice they were all willing to make as a family. When Cheryl approached her boss about taking three and a half months of leave for the summer he told her “you’ll never get an opportunity like that again.”
When it came time to head to Florida this summer, Danielle, Maddie and Cheryl all made the trip. Danielle’s dad, Andrew had to stay in Boston to work through the summer but makes road trips when work permits it. One of those trips includes the upcoming trip to Round Rock scheduled during the Locke’s wedding anniversary on June 29th. DeDonatis made sure both Maddie and Cheryl can travel with the team. When they can’t, Cheryl remains in Kissimmee with Maddie. When Danielle is practicing or playing, Cheryl takes on mom duties. “My mom is so good with her. When we have practice or games, my mom will get up and feed her so I can sleep. She knows it’s a grind for me and has helped me so much.”
The addition of Maddie to the Pride family means there is always a smiling face welcoming the team after games. Lawrie, who is known as one of the most competitive players in the NPF, said motherhood has changed her outlook on softball. “I still want to compete, that’s always the goal when I get out there. But after the game’s done it’s refreshing to see Madison. It makes you see the game a little bit differently.”
Veteran catcher Megan Willis said Maddie has been a blessing to the team. “She’s constantly smiling and happy which automatically brings a smile to your face. No matter if we just had a long practice, won or lost a game, or it’s 6 AM in an airport, she brings such joy.”
While the journey hasn’t been easy and it has taken a full family effort, the return of Danielle Lawrie to softball is a welcomed sight. “I couldn’t be more excited to have her back as part of the Pride pitching staff and watching Danielle in the circle as her daughter sits with her Grandma Cheryl in the stands” said DeDonatis.
The presence of Maddie illustrates being a working mom is possible in women’s professional sports. “It’s been incredible watching Danielle handle Maddie, her personal life and ball. Inspiring actually. Maddie brings a little slice of life outside of ball into our very inclusive professional softball world and is a constant reminder that life is so much more than softball” said Willis.
Work-family balance is something many women are challenged with in society. Similar to the famous softball moms before her, like Jennie Finch and Jessica Mendoza, Danielle Lawrie embraces the work-family balance role of professional athlete and professional mom. Her decision to return to softball not only helps the Pride in their quest for a 2014 NPF Championship, but it signifies the real world obstacles professional female athletes are faced with, and serves as an inspiration to moms and female athletes everywhere. Maternity leave in women’s professional sports may not be the easiest road and it may take a full family effort, but it embodies the beauty of motherhood and the phrase, working mom.
Visit Danielle Lawrie’s website to follow her journey through softball and motherhood.
About USSSA Florida Pride:
The USSSA Florida Pride is a professional franchise in the National Pro Fastpitch League that is owned and operated by USSSA. The amateur organization of USSSA has multi-sport coverage and encompasses teams and players from the United States and abroad.
National Pro Fastpitch is headquartered in Nashville, TN. The league, created to give elite female fastpitch players the opportunity to pursue a professional career in their chosen sport, has operated since 1997 under the names of Women’s Pro Fastpitch (WPF) and Women’s Pro Softball League (WPSL). NPF is the Official Development Partner of Major League Baseball in the category of women’s fastpitch softball since 2002.
The United States Specialty Sports Association (USSSA), headquartered in Osceola County, Florida, USSSA is the World’s Largest Multi-sport Athletic Organization. Founded in 1968, USSSA has grown to over 3.7 million participants, competing in 13 nationally sanctioned sports including Baseball, Fastpitch, Slow Pitch, Karate, Basketball, Soccer and more! For more information on USSSA and to register your team visit USSSA.com. Also be sure to visit USSSAToday.com for the latest USSSA News!