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.