Jennifer Hartman is Bonita Vista High School’s softball pitcher. Here, she warms up before a game.
CHULA VISTA When Jennifer Hartman was selected to play for the Bonita Valley All-Star softball team as a 10-year-old, coach John Carlson could already see she was a special pitcher.
He saw something else: She wasn’t a hitter.
Carlson has coached Hartman ever since, the last four years at Bonita Vista High, and very little has changed. She is still an outstanding pitcher and she doesn’t even bother with batting practice.
“She never hits,” said Carlson of the right-handed pitcher. “She’s not a power hitter and it’s my philosophy that if your No. 1 pitcher is a singles hitter, she’ll sit down. I can find lots of singles hitters.
“The last thing you want to do is lose your No. 1 pitcher because she got hurt running the bases or sliding. I wrap her in bubble-wrap and only unwrap her when she’s pitching.”
It’s hard to argue with Carlson’s philosophy and luckily for him, Hartman agrees 100 percent.
“I’m fine with that,” said Carlson, who will probably have to go through withdrawal symptoms once she moves on to new coaches at Sacramento State where she earned a scholarship. “Hitting takes a lot out of you and I want to focus on just pitching.
“Hitting is not my way of contributing.”
Hartman’s contribution is with her arm — she can throw a rise, a curve, a screwball, and a drop. Carlson says that while Hartman is plenty fast, she’ll never be confused with Nolan Ryan.
Instead of terrifying batters with a 70 mph fastball, the 5-foot-7 Hartman uses wile and no small amount of intelligence, which this season has resulted in an 11-1 record—the loss coming to county power West Hills (2-1). In her first 14 appearances, she had 88 strikeouts against 39 walks including a no-hitter over Grossmont, resulting in a 1.66 earned run average.
She has won her last eight starts.
Strong as those numbers are, they pale compared to last year when the Barons (34-2) won their first 28 straight games, 21 of them by Hartman who finished with a 25-2 with a 1.58 ERA.
“We had a veteran team and that record was an anomaly,” Carlson said. “We had talent at every position while this year we still have talent but its young and we’re suffering growing gains—if losing just three games is suffering.
“Jennifer has improved. This year she has an air of confidence, she’s tough and reliable.”
Hartman says three years of opposing many of the same batters has given her an edge.
“I definitely remember opponents and umpires,” Hartman said. “Seniors are the best hitters and I’ve seen all of them and I know what they like and don’t like. The others—I learn about them by watching.”
She admits she has an edge on most of the newer players because of her reputation and she has learned that the mental aspects of the game are just as important as the physical.
When she was younger, she would pitch wearing sunglasses to hide her feelings and has learned that many people reveal when they are upset by the way they act. She has seen a lot of pitchers take a poor at-bat back to the mound, which is another reason she doesn’t mind not hitting.
“It’s like poker players who wear sunglasses or try not to show any emotion no matter what happens,” she said.
But what if she gave up a home run at a key time?
“You learn to come back and get the next batter—strike her out if you can,” Hartman said.