Father-daughter relationship builds softball star

Bethaney Keen first stepped onto the field at 4 years old and moved on to play travel softball in middle school.

He’s been by her side from the start.

From playing T-ball to being named to the All-American Athletic Conference All-Rookie team after her freshman season last year, USF Softball’s Bethaney Keen’s father has played an integral piece in her success on the field, both as a coach and as a mentor.

Bethaney’s first on-the-field experience with her father came when she was playing T-ball at 4-years-old, with her father, James Keen, as the coach.

“She was the only girl on my team,” James said. “Truly, she was my best player. She’d throw the ball to first base, and the other kids couldn’t catch it.”

Now at USF, Bethaney is doing what her T-ball teammates couldn’t — catching balls as the team’s everyday first baseman. 

Before she was hitting walk-off homeruns, as she did in USF’s 2017 season opener, Bethaney was surrounded by baseball. Her two uncles played Triple-A, while her older brother was a pitcher, which made for many days and nights at the ballpark.

She was coached by her father throughout recreational softball, all the way until she started playing travel softball with the Tampa Mustangs in eighth grade.

“My dad was always my coach,” Bethaney said. “My dad saw the potential in me when he pushed me. We would get into arguments all the time.”

The arguments usually came in the form of bickering when she and her dad were putting in extra practice on their own time, according to Bethaney.

The two would get frustrated, one would storm off the field while the other stayed, then they would reconvene and get back to work after a cooling-off period.

“We’d just bicker when I didn’t want to be there,” Bethaney said. “He’d say he was going to leave, and I’d realize I did actually want to be there. I would just stay on the field until he came back to soft-toss to me.”

When asked about his perspective of the story, her father laughed.

“Would we butt heads? Oh lord yes,” James said. “You get upset with your daughter, and you say ‘to heck with it’ and pick up the balls. She’d stay out there, and she knew I wouldn’t leave, and I even knew I wouldn’t leave. Then we’d get over it, and it’d be all good.”

While softball was number one, James also said Bethaney wanted to be involved in several sports as she was grew up, including football, baseball and taekwondo.

“She wanted to play all kinds of sports, but taekwondo she was really good at,” James said. “She was doing good with that when she got into weapons, nunchucks and all that. She’s competitive.”

James described his daughter as a gamer and as someone who refused to back down from a challenge.

When Bethaney shifted from playing recreational softball to playing for the Tampa Mustangs, her career started to get more serious. While playing softball for Braden River High School, Bethaney was traveling across the country with the Mustangs. 

Bethaney played in tournaments in Tennessee, Indiana and California. She helped lead her team to winning the 2015 16U Premier Girls Fastpitch National Championship in California, with her dad watching and supporting every step of the way.

After she went through a long recruiting process, Bethaney finalized her decision to play for USF and had to get right to work on the team.

“I was nervous in an exciting way,” Bethaney said. “Coach told me the day before I was starting, so I knew that. My first at-bat in college I struck out.”

Bethaney had yet to get a hit in the game and approached the plate for the third time with a runner on base and the Bulls down one run.

“I remember that game so vividly, and I remember we were down by one,” Bethaney recalled. “It was my last at-bat, and I was like ‘Coach, don’t worry, I’ve got this, don’t worry,’ and then it happened.”

Bethaney hit a two-run walk-off home run as her first career college hit, which gave the Bulls their first victory of the season. Bethaney would go on to hit three more home runs, while knocking in a team-high 29 RBI’s.

“I was nervous, of course,” Bethaney said. “I had been waiting for that moment for I don’t know how long. The anticipation of that game was huge. I think even now I’m nervous.”

Bethaney finished her season by being selected to the All-American Athletic Conference All-Rookie team. She didn’t even know she had received the honor until a friend told her.

“I got a congrats from my friend, and I was so confused. I looked on Twitter, and I was like ‘Ah, that’s cool,’” Bethaney said. “Of course, my own accolades are cool and all, and I wish we had better team accolades last year, which didn’t happen.”

As a team, USF finished the season 32-24 and lost in the first round of the AAC tournament to Memphis 7-0. The Bulls didn’t make the NCAA Tournament or win a conference tournament game for the first time since 2011.

Despite an accolade-filled freshman season, Bethaney’s college experience hasn’t come without some low points. She would often go back to her roots and reach out to her father when she faced tough times.

“She’d talk to me always,” James said. “There were ups and downs with her sometimes. She wants to be up so much all the time sometimes she’d get down on herself really bad. Her worst enemy was herself, I’d tell her. There’s so much up above her she’s got to keep working and not get too down on herself.”

Bethaney said she almost quit softball to become a baseball pitcher like her brother, but her father convinced her to stick with the sport.

“Me and my dad still practice pitching sometimes when I’m home,” Bethaney said. “It’s a fun little hobby I used to do. I don’t know what made me not quit, but I’m glad I never did.”