(Here’s the longer version of a feature story on ‘Iolani softball player Kimberlee Souza. The shorter feature ran in today’s Star-Advertiser.)
Life is but a kiss for Kimberlee Souza.
Make that KISS, the acronym for “Keep it simple, silly!”
Arguably the finest contact hitter in the state, Souza has been a perennial softball all-state selection by coaches and media. The ‘Iolani shortstop has continued to escalate her attack on pitchers as a senior. Souza, who signed with the University of Washington, hit .561 last year with 15 RBIs and 17 runs in 12 regular-season games. This season, she’s hitting .638 with five home runs — already matching last year’s total — along with three triples and eight doubles in just 47 at-bats.
She is nothing short of a hitting machine, a machine that doesn’t think outside the box, batter’s box or otherwise.
“I don’t have goals,” she said over a plate of fried rice on Sunday morning.
Really? A 3.2 grade-point average. Scintillating stats. Always on time for the 5:30 a.m. daily voyage from Waialua to ‘Iolani. No goals?
Souza and her dad, Byron, made the trek to Waipio to meet with a reporter for a chat about hitting and not too much else. But in between sips of fruit punch, it becomes clear: there’s no science in her approach at the plate that is explainable, not by her. Souza is the embodiment of muscle memory. It’s Byron, who never played sports in high school, who has applied the nuances and simplicity to his daughter’s perfect swing.
The emphasis is on a proper swing, not necessarily what isn’t a proper swing. Byron has studied the mechanics of a racquetball swing for decades, having taken up the sport after high school. Learning the game from old-school mentors. The only video machine necessary is the one in his brain.
“Most of the time, it’s what I’m doing at the contact with the ball,” she said. “That’s all that matters.”
Byron explains how repetition of the compact cut, which began when she began playing Little League baseball at 5, is all she’s needed.
“She won’t figure it out. I’ll figure it out. Ever since she was hitting, I always taught her the same. It’s exactly the same swing as racquetball when you break it down,” he said. “Everybody teaches this (loop swing). You don’t want that. You want to go straight. Everybody teaches bat speed. I don’t teach that. It’s always slow and smooth and perfect.”
Slow? Slow makes a .638 batting average?
It makes sense only for those who think outside the box, pun intended. Kimberlee Souza is keeping it simple.
Souza uses one bat and one bat only. In a generation of hoarders and collectors, she stands out with a Anderson Rocketech, 33 inches, 24 ounces and more expensive than some used cars ($289). She’ll have to adjust to a Mizuno bat next year at UW, but she shrugs. It doesn’t really matter, she says. Neither does the count when she’s standing at the plate. In fact, she’s more likely to swing at the first pitch than go to a full count; she’s walked just five times this season and is yet to strike out.
Each walk to the plate — she’s moved from third to second to leadoff in coach Chris Shimabukuro’s lineup — is virtually the same routine.
“I take a couple of swings. I get signals from coach. It depends if there’s people on base. I bunted once this year, but it’s pretty much hit away,” she said.
>> 0-0 count: “Sometimes I take one, but I like to swing on 0-0. You don’t have to worry about getting deep in the count or when pitchers are going to challenge you later. Most pitchers try to get ahead. Most of the time, it’s right down the middle.”
>> 1-0 count: “They usually throw something to throw the batter off, to throw their timing off. It depends on who the pitcher is.” Case in point: Mid-Pacific ace Keiki Carlos. “She’ll probably throw a riser, but sometimes she throws a change-up.”
>> 0-1 count: They’re ahead and they have pitches to waste, so they don’t have to throw a strike. A lot of them try to challenge you.”
>> 1-1 count: “I’m just looking for a strike. If there’s runners on base, sometimes I’m more cautious. I’m looking for a fastball.”
>> 2-1 count: “It’s still kind of even. They could still waste pitches.”
>> 1-2 count: It usually doesn’t get this far against Souza, but Pac-Five sophomore ace Sophia Luczak had her on the ropes in Saturday’s game. Souza responded well, connecting on a 1-2 pitch for the first of her two homers. “She was throwing risers. That’s all she was throwing.”
>> 2-2 count: “I don’t choke up on the bat. I never did.”
>> 3-2 count: “I don’t hate it. It’s just that a 0-0 count is better.”
>> 3-1 count: “Sometimes, (Shimabukuro) gives me ‘take one.’ Most of the time, he lets me swing.”
>> 3-0 count: “Most of the time, coach lets me swing. If it’s right there, I’ll swing at it. I usually get a hit.”
Paul Honda, Star-Advertiser