The first time Darby DeRuyter watched a softball game she was intrigued by the pitcher.
“I was fascinated and wondered how they could pitch like that. I thought it was so cool and wanted to try it out myself.”
She did and she’s received a scholarship to attend Lower Columbia College in Longview, WA., and play for the Red Devils.
Darby indicated that throwing underhand came naturally to her.
“I first threw to my dad and of course it was all incorrect, but once I got the coaching I found it came natural to me and I really enjoyed it,” said the five-foot-10, 17-year-old native of Innisfail.
“I think the toughest part is the mental aspect of it as you have the weight of the team on your back. You run the show and it’s all on you, but I enjoy that part of it … having that pressure. I’ve always worked well under pressure and I like being a leader.”
The fact she’s left-handed doesn’t hurt either.
“Definitely it’s helped me along the way,” added DeRuyter, who is in her second year at the St. Joseph High School Baseball/Softball Academy.
Darby grew up playing in Innisfail, finishing the first year with the U14A program before moving to Red Deer for a season. The following year she played U16A in Elnora, with a program made up of a number of Central Alberta girls.
“They had a good base of four or five girls there and added to it from all around Central Alberta,” explained DeRuyter.
The decision to play in the smaller community paid off as they won a national tournament and competed in the World Series in Delaware.
“We played in the Girls Prairie League during the season and anyone could enter the National tournament and the winner went to the States. It was a great experience,” she said.
Following the year with Elnora Darby returned to Red Deer and helped the U16A squad to a provincial title. Last year she was to join the U19A Rage, but the season was cancelled because of the pandemic.
“That was disappointing, but hopefully we can go this year,” she said. “It would be great to play some games before I go to college. Luckily being at St. Joe’s gives me a place to work out and be somewhat prepared, but it’s still not the same as playing games.”
Darby attended Notre Dame High School in Grade 10 before switching to St. Joe’s.
“In Grade 10 I decided I wanted a change and a fresh start so I came into Red Deer. That year St. Joe’s started up and after seeing the program my brother and I switched schools and it was a great decision.”
Darby credits the academy staff, and in particular head coach Jason Chatwood, for her continuing development and for her scholarship.
“It was always a dream of mine to get a scholarship, but I really didn’t see that it was within reach considering my place in the softball world,” she said. “But once I got to St. Joe’s and Jason’s connections made it real for me and I could see it happening.”
Darby looked at a number of schools in the Washington State area, which were “the best fit for me.”
In the end, it was Chatwood who made the connection.
“Jason played at Gonzaga with the baseball coach at Lower Columbia and he sent my video to him and he showed it to the softball coach.”
The Red Devils recruiting coach, Dave Andrew, contacted Darby which led to her signing.
She will work on her bachelor of education degree for the two years at the junior college.
“Hopefully this is a stepping stone toward a four-year school in Division I or II,” added DeRuyter, who will eventually look to get a master’s degree in speech language pathology.
Because the border has been closed Darby hasn’t had an opportunity to go to Longview.
“I’m hoping things open up a bit where I don’t have to quarantine when you come back so I can see the campus and talk with the coaches,” she said.
“If not I’m fortunate enough to have the St. Joe’s facilities to train, and hopefully we’re playing (U19A).”
There was a time this winter when St. Joe’s was closed, which made it tough on Darby.
“The lockdown took its toll mentally more than anything. It was also tough to work out … I’d add some books to my backpack for weights,” she said with a laugh,
“Having the school and academy open kept me sane. I’m excited to go to school. The coaches are amazing and it’s a great experience every day. I get to train alongside my best friends, who share the same passion as I do.”
Darby plays first base when she’s not pitching and believes she’ll do both with the Red Devils.
“They feel I have the bat to play, which will be exciting. I enjoy hitting, even when I’m pitching,” she said.
“The only times they would DH for me in the past was if it was a big game and wanted me to get more rest, or if I’d had a long weekend and pitched a lot.”
Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter and member of the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org