Working on the Return

If my freshman season taught me anything, it taught me that things can change in the blink of an eye.

It was a Saturday morning at Rhoads Stadium, game two against Tennessee and I was playing up the middle at second base.

The Tennessee batter reared back, the pitch came, and then she bunted.

What?

I just remember kind of being caught off guard in that moment. But I shook away the fog and took off as fast as I could to cover first base.

I hadn’t quite made it yet when it looked like the ball was being thrown my way, so I jerked and tried to run in the other direction, and that’s when it happened.

Pop!

My knee collapsed on me right there on the field. I just remember screaming at the top of my lungs because I’d never experienced that much pain before in my life. Coach Murphy did everything he could to keep me calm.

“You’re okay, Bailey. You’re fine,” he said.

But I wasn’t fine, unfortunately.

The injury changed everything.

Bailey Dowling bent over ready to catch the ball coming at her glove

The Ruined Season

I couldn’t stop shaking when they got me in the training room. I don’t know what it was, honestly. All I know is I wasn’t ready to leave the game.

I kept telling myself it didn’t matter how much pain I was in at the moment. Someway, somehow, I was going to get through it and go back out there.

“Let’s just pop the kneecap back in place,” I thought to myself. “I’m fine!”

That’s when I was told it was probably a torn ACL, and after getting a few more tests done, that diagnosis was confirmed.

But even after the news, I was wondering if I could still play, you know? After all, I could sort of hobble on it a bit before my surgery.

I guess nothing really sinks in for me until it happens.

But once I had the operation, reality sure hit hard.

Bailey Dowling and Claire Jenkins posing together, both with knee braces on their leg
Bailey Dowling showing off her walking skills after surgery for a fellow teammate

The childhood dream

It’s hard to go from always being out there competing alongside your teammates to standing in the dugout. It was just so different, and I kind of got inside my own head a bit, you know?

I didn’t feel as connected to the team, even though that was never really the case.

I’m not sure I ever came to terms with those feelings. I just sort of pushed them aside and put everything I had into helping my team try to win a World Series.

Of course, I still had those days when I’d come home and just lose it.

Playing softball at Alabama has been something I’ve dreamt about doing ever since I was a kid, so it was hard having my season ripped away from me like that.

I remember writing a paper in third grade actually about how I wanted to play here one day and hear the crowd say my name as I was walking onto the field. Maybe I was just a kid mesmerized by the uniform colors, or perhaps it was something else entirely that I couldn’t quite wrap my head around at the time.

All I know is I would write down my top five college teams every week, and every time I did it, the University of Alabama would make that list.

Just the fact that I’m even here is crazy to me.

There were times during some of my earlier practices where I’d just sit in the dugout staring at the field. It’s the same field that I’d seen on TV countless times as a kid.

I was just in awe that I was actually there practicing.

And then I’d hear Coach Murph shout in the background, “Come on, let’s get on with it!”

“Yes sir,” I’d say, before throwing on my cleats and running onto the field.

I’m sure I was running on pure adrenaline last season. It truly felt like I was a little kid again playing my favorite game. No, things may not have ended the way I wanted, but I couldn’t have asked for a better situation.

I’m exactly where I wanted to be.

Bailey Dowling pitching the ball
Bailey Dowling looking off into the distance and holding her glove

A new perspective

Looking back, I believe being on the sidelines helped me grow as a player. You tend to see the game differently when watching it from a different perspective.

Everything just came so instinctively for me as a player, and it was actually beneficial to just take a step back and watch from another vantage point. It reminded me that I didn’t have to be playing to be a voice or lead by example.

Even to this day, I still can’t do everything that everybody else is doing on the infield, but I’m able to stand there and offer some advice to the freshmen on the team.

Being injured doesn’t make me less valuable. And my teammates show me that a lot, too.

The best example of it was at a recent practice.

I got to go back to the batting cage for the first time and just stand and watch. As soon as I arrived, everybody started screaming, “Yeah, Bailey!”

It drew attention from everybody at practice to the point where they stopped what they were doing. That moment meant the world to me, even if I couldn’t actually participate. And it wasn’t just about me, either.

It was about all of us. We all matter here—on and off the field.

With that said, I’m still itching to get back on it. I’m not really sure when I’ll be back to 100 percent, but I’m hoping that it’s soon.

Once I get that green light, it’s all about softball from here on out. It’s all about picking back up where we left off.

And I can’t wait.

Softball team cheering on Bailey Dowling as she runs onto the field
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