Fernandez, Lisa (c. 1971—)

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Fernandez, Lisa (c. 1971—)

American softball player . Born in Long Beach, California, around 1971; daughter of Antonio Fernandez and Emilia Fernandez; attended St. Joseph High School, Lakewood, California; earned undergraduate degree in psychology from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Arguably the best all-around player in fast-pitch softball in the 1990s, Lisa Fernandez is a dazzling pitcher, a.400 batter, and plays third base like she owns it. Mike Downey of the Los Angeles Times called her "too unreal to be true" and compared her to Sandy Koufax, Fernando Valenzuela, and fictional baseball heroes such as Roy Hobbs, Joe Hardy, and Sidd Finch.

Fernandez was born into baseball. Her father Antonio played semi-pro baseball in Cuba before emigrating to the United States in 1962, and her mother Emilia Fernandez , a native of Puerto Rico, played in several softball leagues during the early years of her marriage. Fernandez grew up in Lakewood, California, where as a toddler she chased a rolled-up sock that her mother tossed around the house. "All I knew was softball," she recalled in USA Today. "We were always playing. I was the batgirl for my mom's slow-pitch team. When I was old enough, I started playing." Her early years were carefully supervised by her mother, who did not allow her daughter to play on teams she could dominate. "She didn't want me to be a big fish in a little pond," Fernandez explained. "So I always played on teams where there were better players, where I had to work hard to get better."

At age eight, during her first outing as a pitcher, Fernandez walked 20 batters and lost 28–0, but she improved quickly. She won her first American Softball Association championship at 11 and, during her high school career, pitched 69 shutouts, 37 no-hitters, and 12 perfect games (an impressive record considering that as a teen she was discouraged from pitching by a nationally recognized coach). Her college career at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), was equally awesome. She was a four-time All-American and a two-time NCAA champion. She broke seven UCLA records and topped the NCAA record of winning percentages with a.930 average (93–7). In her senior year alone, she led the nation in hitting (.510) and had the lowest ERA (0.23). In addition to playing for her college team, she was also on Team USA and won six games and a gold medal at the 1991 Pan American Games. She also played on two gold-medal-winning Olympic Festival teams.

Since graduating from college, Fernandez has played for the Raybestos Brakettes, a championship amateur women's softball team based in Connecticut. In 1996, Fernandez fulfilled a long-time dream, pitching for the first-ever U.S. Olympic women's softball team. A leading force in the team's gold-medal victory, Fernandez delighted fans with a 68-mph rising fastball that is said to jump a foot as it buzzes through the strike zone. (It is only one of a six-pitch repertoire that includes a "backdoor changeup" which she throws backhanded.) "It will never be any better than this," she said of the team's victory at the Atlanta Games.

Most recently, Fernandez has served as an assistant softball coach at UCLA and has participated in a campaign to include women's softball, a provisional event in the 1996 Atlanta Games, in the Sydney Games in 2000. While at the top of her game and a success by any standards, Fernandez is still hard on herself. "God didn't give me that many physical talents," she told USA Today. "But one thing He did give me was a lot of heart and a lot of tenacity. I always tell myself never to be satisfied."

sources:

Bender, Fran. "No Stopping the Brakettes," in Women's Sports & Fitness. Vol. 15, no. 5, August 1993, p. 17.

Johnson, Anne Janette. Great Women in Sports. Detroit, MI: Visible Ink, 1998.

Smith, Shelley. "Sports People," in Sports Illustrated. Vol. 78, no. 20. May 24, 1993, p. 52.

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