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CLOVERDALE — The main hallway in Patty Bird’s Cloverdale home is about 40 feet long, just about the same distance between the pitcher’s rubber and home plate on a softball field.

It wasn’t planned that way. But it has worked out pretty nicely for Bird’s granddaughter, Cloverdale High freshman Tehya Bird.

When grandmother would babysit her first grandchild way back when, she’d plunk her down at one end of the hall and she’d be at the other. Back and forth they’d roll, bounce and toss a soft ball.

Patty Bird remembers it as a way to keep her granddaughter busy. Tehya remembers it as a piece of the athletic foundation that has made her a dominant player in the North Central League in just her freshman campaign.

“We would start rolling the ball and she just graduated on up from there,” Patty Bird said. “She had a natural motion.”

The tennis ball graduated to larger spheres as Tehya’s hands grew. Soon, Tehya Bird started showing signs of prowess and playing indoors was no longer the greatest idea.

“I would show her a few things and she would laugh and play and it wasn’t any big ‘You have to do this.’ It was something she loved,” Patty Bird said.

She still does.

Bird is dominating in the pitcher’s circle and at the plate for the Eagles, who are 15-3 overall and currently tied for first in the NCL I with Kelseyville who also have a league record of 9-1 after beating Willits Friday.

Bird has an earned run average of 0.85 in league and 1.23 overall. She is throwing the ball 62-64 mph, according to assistant coach Pat Fitzgerald who typically calls her pitches during a game.

A good high school pitcher throws 55-58 mph and most of them are in the range of 50-55 mph, he said.

“The rise ball, drop curve, drop and two fastballs — inside and outside ­— that is what she has now at age 14, which is pretty good,” he said.

He was chuckling when he said it, which I take to mean her command of her pitches is a wee bit better than “pretty good.”

Bird is pretty good enough to get the attention of the University of Oregon. Before the high school season even started, she gave the Ducks a verbal commitment to play in Eugene after graduation.

“Ever since I was really young, for some reason, I fell in love with the school,” she said. “My mindset was stuck on Oregon. I made sure they always saw me.”

Softball and baseball are in the Bird gene pool. Patty Bird is in Santa Rosa Junior College’s Hall of Fame for her softball prowess in 1980-81, Tehya’s uncle played in the minors, her mom was a pitcher at Ukiah High and her dad was a standout baseball player for Cloverdale.

Family lore has it that hours, maybe days, after Tehya’s birth she was taken to the ballfield where her aunt was playing. She doesn’t remember that day, but it might as well be written into her DNA.

“I kind of got the love of the game from the whole family,” she said.

Long drives to travel ball practice in Concord would turn into impromptu tutorials on aspects of the game.

“It’s good grandmother and granddaughter time,” Patty Bird said. “It’s 2½ hours to Concord.”

“She’s very coachable,” she said. “She listens and loves the game.”

Despite having a full schedule of travel ball, there was no question of whether Bird would suit up for Cloverdale — it’s a family tradition, starting with Patty Bird.

“I like playing for my school. I like putting on my jersey and it says ‘Eagles’ across it,” she said. “I think it’s fun for my classmates to come out and stuff.”

And as a freshman, she has been dropped right into the thick of it.

Until a bit of a shaky outing Thursday against perennial rival Clear Lake, the Eagles had held opponents to an average of two runs per game. On Thursday, the Cardinals scored seven runs in a nail-biter that went into extra innings before the Eagles closed it out when Bird scored in the bottom of the eighth to make the final score 8-7.

But rough games can add to a player’s and a team’s arsenal, Fitzgerald said.

“I said, ‘You know what? We are not all perfect every game. We don’t expect you to be perfect. You are not always going to have a great outing, but you were able to gather yourself and give us two shutdown innings when things weren’t going well for you,’” he said.

After enduring four fielding errors against a talented Clear Lake team, Cloverdale managed to find a way to win.

“They are a pretty well-coached team and it’s a huge rivalry,” Pat Fitzgerald said. “Our girls showed a bunch of resilience.”

“They got it done,” he said.

Much of that can be attributed to Bird’s long softball resume.

“She’s still kind of young but she’s old for her age as far as knowing the game,” he said.

And knowing the game helps a player keep composure when the heat is getting turned up.

“When I’m pitching, usually I try to just not think about too much because then I start going all over the place,” she said. “I usually tell myself to take deep breaths and I just focus on me and the catcher.”

She’s also focusing on her hitting, being a believer that if you are strong at the plate, a college team will find a place for you in the lineup.

Whatever she is doing is working. Bird is hitting .745 on the season and .821 in league. She’s got eight home runs and 47 RBI, almost double that of any other Eagle.

“She is the hardest hitter I have ever seen, ever in softball coaching,” said 27-year Cloverdale veteran Margaret Fitzgerald. “And I’ve had some really good hitters.”

That was not always an obvious skill, Tehya Bird said. In fact, she had to grow into enjoying her time at the plate.

“When I was younger, I didn’t really like going up there and hitting,” she said. “Now I have grown to really like hitting.”

Funny how a slugging percentage of 1.4 can make you enjoy your time at the plate.

“She hits the ball so far,” Pat Fitzgerald said. “We have the 200-foot fence and she’s hitting them 50 feet over.”

Just imagine if Patty Bird had let her granddaughter take a little batting practice in that hallway so long ago. Those moonshots might be going 60 feet past the outfield fence.

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield.

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