She Got Game
Foundation for Emma Baldwin’s success at DePauw, OPRF established with Windmills
By MARTY FARMER
Emma Baldwin vividly recalls her first outing as a pitcher for the Oak Park Windmills.
“I was 9 years old and playing on the Windmills’ 8U team in a 10U tournament,” Baldwin said. “I faced 26 batters in one inning and they scored at least 20 runs. The 5-fun limit rule had just ended so it was a rude awakening. It was freezing cold and the other team scored a ton of runs.
“When I came off the field I was proud though. I told my dad that I was so happy because they just hit everything, which meant I was throwing strikes.”
Since that inauspicious debut, Baldwin has continually proven through her positive attitude, work ethic, intelligence and talent it’s not how you start but how you finish.
Last season, the 5-foot-8 right-hander finished 14-6 with a 2.44 earned-run average and 175 strikeouts in 140 innings with a school-record six saves as a standout freshman pitcher for DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind.
Baldwin pitched a five-inning no-hitter on March 31 in leading the Tigers to a 9-0 win in the second game of a North Coast Athletic Conference doubleheader sweep over Denison.
She was named the NCAC Tournament MVP, All-NCAC second-team, along with recognition as the NCAC and NFCA Pitcher of the Week during the regular season. The Tigers (36-16) finished the season tied for fifth in the NCAA Division III Softball Championship.
Prior to her promising debut at DePauw, Baldwin flourished at Oak Park and River Forest High School as an exemplary student-athlete.
During her four years as a Huskie, Baldwin earned the following awards: Three-year field hockey/four-year softball varsity letter winner, All-State in field hockey (2013), All-Academic Team field hockey (2012-13), Field Hockey Offensive Player of the Year (2013), Softball MVP (2013), All-Conference softball (2013-14), Pioneer Press Second-Team softball (2014), Cum Laude Society (2014), Honor Roll/Dean’s List (2010-14), Illinois State Scholar (2013-14) and Science National Honor Society, Latin Honor Society.
While her accomplishments at DePauw and OPRF are undeniably impressive, Baldwin’s formative days with the Windmills established a strong foundation for her prowess in the pitcher’s circle.
“When I started out with Windmills, I was just trying to get better and have fun with my friends,” Baldwin said. “It gets more competitive as you go along. You become more driven to improve as a player, then play high school softball, and possibly even college softball.
“I loved all the teams I was on with Windmills. What really made it special was the solid group of girls we had who played for years together.”
Baldwin cited close friends like Libby Foster and Madi Maldonado as two of her favorite teammates with the Windmills. Other Windmills/OPRF players have greatly influenced her as well like Annie Ford, Lia Romeo, Leah Bry, Taylor Arends, Emily Richardson, Nina Steele and Sofie Pederson.
She also praised several Windmills coaches, including Dave Golitko, Beth Golitko, Tim Weinand, Bob Monaco and Tom Carraher. Pitching coaches John Hanrahan and Linsey Snow, personal strength/agility trainer Thurman Hendrix and OPRF head coach Mel Kolbusz and assistant coach Gary Miller have been instrumental mentors during Baldwin’s career as well.
Fittingly, Baldwin’s parents, Karen and Michael (a Windmills/house-league coach) are her biggest fans.
“The support I’ve had from Windmills’ coaches and teammates plus my family and friends is wonderful,” Baldwin said. “Windmills has a great feeder area so all the girls that I played with were really into the game and also very nice. Oak Park and River Forest have big house leagues so Windmills draws players from those communities. You also have players from the surrounding areas join Windmills. It’s just a really nice feeder system overall.”
Reflective of the Windmills’ reputation for churning out high end high school and college-ready players, it’s understandable if current Windmills players emulate Baldwin similar to her admiration of players like Romeo and Bry, who played college softball at Western Illinois and Butler, respectively. In that respect, Windmills players (past and present) are a softball sorority.
“I recommend Windmills for girls because games are more competitive but still fun,” Baldwin said. “The coaches are great, too. I had four college players coach me which was inspiring. I saw those girls playing college softball and I wanted to be like them.”
Overcoming adversity en route to success
Like any individual success story, however, there have been growing pains for Baldwin.
After OPRF finished an uncharacteristically poor 11-22 in 2010 and 16-16 in 2013, Baldwin played a major role her senior year as the pitching staff’s ace and a solid hitter during the Huskies’ resurgent 2014 campaign. OPRF finished 27-10 with a supersectional appearance, sectional/regional titles and a runner-up showing in the West Suburban Conference Silver Division.
During that satisfying season, Baldwin also pitched her first perfect game with nine strikeouts during an 11-0 win over Hinsdale Central.
Accomplishments aside, Baldwin provided intangibles like leadership and determination which fostered a positive team dynamic.
"She's the sunshine on our team," Kolbusz said during an interview that season. "She'll be sitting next to me in the dugout and something bad will happen and I'll be like, 'oh, no.' And she will say, 'but coach, we're going to get out of it.'"
“Emma gets all the tough games. too. If we have a big game, she's going to pitch. She's improves every year. Emma is really composed and nothing ruffles her on the mound. She has all the pitches and is just a really tough kid."
This past spring, Kolbusz guided the Huskies sans Baldwin to a scintillating 33-4 record and third-place finish in Class 4A state playoffs. Although Baldwin was gone, she certainly was not forgotten.
“I played with Emma for two years on OPRF’s varsity team,” said Taylor Arends, a freshman at Washington University in St. Louis. “We had a blast in the  supersectional game and I still remember us fighting till the last inning.
“Emma was easily one of the most positive and encouraging players I’ve played with during my career,” added Arends, who will play softball at Washington University. “Her accuracy as a pitcher is astounding and she always did whatever our team needed at the plate to help win games.”
Although college life has been an adjustment, Baldwin has settled in comfortably at DePauw even with a dose of adversity.
“I played field hockey at DePauw last year but tore my left ACL during the first few days of preseason,” she said. “I didn’t know [of the injury] until around Thanksgiving. Surgery was recommended but I didn’t want to miss out on a whole year of softball at DePauw, especially with the team losing three important starters.
“I found a doctor, Dr. Brian Cole who performed surgery on Derrick Rose’s torn ACL. He said it was okay for me to play softball if I wore a brace all season.”
After a sluggish start adjusting to the injury and softball inactivity, Baldwin started to hit her stride during the winter term at DePauw.
“I started weightlifting, physical therapy and conditioning,” Baldwin said. “At the beginning of the [softball] season, my performance wasn’t where it was in high school but there were signs of improvement. I kept progressing, worked on my pitches and finished the season well. Thankfully, I peaked at the right time of the year.”
Baldwin’s best is likely still to come for the Tigers. She had successful knee surgery on June 5 and will be back for softball in the spring of 2016. A return to the DePauw field hockey team remains a possibility albeit not this year.
“I won’t be playing field hockey this year because it’s a huge time commitment,” Baldwin said. “To be involved in two sports and not be able to play or practice [in field hockey] is tough. I’m sad about not playing field hockey, but it will allow me to focus on softball and stay healthy for the season.”
“I’m so excited because I’m recovering both well and fast from the ACL. We’ll see how it goes but I’m very optimistic about what both the team and I can do next season. The [DePauw] coaches Erica Hanrahan and Jamie Mueller are amazing and have already helped me become a better pitcher.”
The narrative of Baldwin’s softball career revolves around success, but the aforementioned adversity of a torn ACL and rough outing as a Windmills rookie also lend perspective. It’s that sense of perspective Baldwin gladly offers current Windmills players specifically and young athletes in general.
“It’s important to always give 110 percent,” said Baldwin, “but if something doesn’t work out you have still have so many more chances in life. Softball is a game of 1,000 at-bats and a million ground balls. Every single one of them isn’t going to make a difference. Keep trying and push through. You’ll find your stride and remember to always have fun along the way.”