Mishlan not putting on the brakes

Marilyn Monroe said diamonds are a girl’s best friend, but she never said they had to be worn on a finger. Since the age of five, Lea Mishlan’s best friend has been a diamond – the softball field.

During her years growing up in Houston, Mishlan could be found playing the game she never thought would become professional. But now as an assistant softball coach for USF and the team’s former shortstop, Mishlan has been in the professional league, but she isn’t ready to hang up her cleats just yet.

After Mishlan graduated from USF in 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in education, she spent the summer playing for the Tampa Bay Firestix in the Women’s Professional Softball League.

“I’d never believe that there would be a professional league,” Mishlan said. “The level and the players – it’s just amazing. You’re playing with Olympians. It was extremely challenging.”

With WPSL only having four teams, the league was shut down last year but plans to open this summer at the minor league level. However Mishlan’s softball career didn’t end there. Last summer she joined the women’s national Amateur Softball Association league with the Raybestos Brakettes in Connecticut, now known as the Stratford Brakettes.

The team has seen former Olympians and some of softball’s most advanced players such as Lisa Fernandez, Dot Richardson and Danielle Henderson, which shows why the team has a strong level of competition and talent.

“They all want to play every second of the day and they are all really good,” Mishlan said.

For Mishlan, though, she has always wanted to step onto an Olympic field for herself.

“I was more geared toward the Olympics, and that still is my ultimate goal,” Mishlan said. “That was usually what I talked about.”

Once Mishlan began playing softball for USF, she said people began to realize how serious she was about her goals. And with a fielding percentage of .930 and .347 batting average from 1997-2000, Mishlan proved to others that she was ready for a more competitive level of softball. But she said there was still room for improvement.

“Honestly, I still think I could have done better,” Mishlan said. “One error would have been too many.”

USF coach Ken Eriksen said when Mishlan came to USF, she didn’t realize how much talent she had.

“She didn’t believe how good she was,” Eriksen said. “She was the best shortstop we ever had, and she made plays that nobody else did. She always showed up extra early and stayed late to take ground balls.”

Eriksen said Mishlan has the potential to be an Olympic athlete, but first she has to show others through her performance.

“She is such a good player, she could help out a national team,” Eriksen said. “She has to prove herself and certain people that she’s going to play at that level.”

After morning trainings, conditioning and nearly three-hour practices throughout the week in the professional league, Mishlan found her days were led more by self-motivation rather than the coach’s demands.

“It wasn’t your coach saying, ‘You have to come with me and do this,'” Mishlan said. “You were on your own, that’s the biggest difference. Here, the coaches are on you 24/7, but there you hit, you play and you do what you can to just start hitting.”

On the other side of the field, Mishlan’s role as assistant coach is to work with the players during practice and handle the team’s equipment. Mishlan said it’s difficult to watch the game without being able to play.

“I’m sitting in the dugout and you say, ‘Oh man,'” Mishlan said. “But I get my fair share in practice trying to get in some throws.” Eriksen said Mishlan’s assistance with the team is well done because of her work with the infielders improving techniques as well as offering guidance.

“The one thing about her is she was such a great student, she was always recognized for her academics,” Eriksen said. “Even today she still comes out early to take ground balls. It makes you wish you had about 12 or 15 more like her.”

Although Mishlan is focusing on getting into the Olympics, she is also continuing graduate school to earn her master’s degree in education. Once her softball days are done, she would like to have a career in counselor’s education.

“That’s when I hang up my cleats. But right now, I want to play softball,” Mishlan said.

Contact Grace Agostin at oraclegrace@yahoo.com