NEW PALESTINE — Jaylin Calvert stepped up to the right side of home plate and fearlessly stared down Montana Fouts.
Fouts, currently a senior at East Carter High School in Kentucky, was one of the top pitchers in the travel league circuit, Calvert said, known for having an intimidating presence.
Fouts stands at 6-foot-1, and her fastball is like a bullet out of a rifle, one of the many reason why she was pursued by Alabama and recently signed with the Crimson Tide this past November.
But even that wasn’t enough to make Calvert flinch. It’s been a year since that showdown, but Calvert looks back on it as the kind of experience that made her ready for what’s next.
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The 16-year-old New Palestine High School junior has accepted a full-ride softball scholarship to Auburn University, having caught the eye of head softball coach Mickey Dean, who noticed Calvert during her past three seasons with the Beverly Bandits, a travel softball team.
Calvert played for the New Palestine softball team her freshman year, but as a sophomore she decided to focus solely on travel ball, said Tracy Calvert, Jaylin’s mother.
When she was 14, Jaylin became the center fielder for the Chicago-based Beverly Bandits, an elite travel team.
The Bandits, who last year were ranked the No. 2 travel softball team in the country, gave Jaylin the experience and exposure necessary for a future as a college athlete.
On the field with the Bandits, she met some of the sport’s fiercest challenges, among them that face-off with Fouts last summer.
Jaylin’s team was down 1-0 during that meeting, but she knew that even a base hit could give them the momentum they needed to string together a few runs and reclaim the game. Just a base hit, she thought.
Fouts suddenly delivered a high pitch right up the middle. Calvert reacted, swung and connected, hard.
Calvert rounded first base before spotting the center fielder, diving over the fence for a ball long gone. Calvert had just become the first player in the travel league to hit a home run off of Fouts.
But the journey to that point hadn’t come cheap, she said.
Playing travel softball is an expensive and time-consuming endeavor, Tracy Calvert said. The family has logged countless hours on cross-country road trips destined for tournaments as far as California. In the summertime, Jaylin was rarely at home for more than two weeks.
Jaylin’s power hitting ability and slick fielding skills quickly caught the attention of college coaches scouting travel games, Tracy Calvert said.
Bandits head coach Jen Tyrell said that Auburn’s decision to accept Jaylin into their ranks speaks volumes about both her character and her personal abilities.
If Tyrell were a college coach, she would want Calvert to be a starter in her program.
“We have coached some of the best defensive players in the country, and she is by far the best outfielder I have ever coached or even seen,” Tyrell said. “She plays the outfield in a way that saves games, saves runs, and saves championships.
“It’s not often you would say that about an outfielder,” she added.
Tyrell praised Calvert’s skills at the plate as well, but the junior insists she hasn’t always been such a fearsome hitter.
Calvert has been playing softball since she was 4, but for the majority of her athletic career, she was more of a contact hitter, she said. Calvert could consistently slap the ball for a base hit, but she rarely swung for the fences.
Seeing her potential at a young age, her mother told her early on the cost of being the best.
“I always told her, ‘You’re athletic, but hard work will beat you every time,’” Tracy Calvert said. “If you don’t out-work every other kid in this country, they will come and take your spot.’”
Every week for the past year and a half, she’s put in hours of weightlifting and batting practice to sharpen her game at the plate, she said. She also joined New Palestine’s track and field team to cross-train and improve her endurance.
Since then, Jaylin has developed a formidable swing to go along with her skills in the outfield, Tracy Calvert said.
Getting noticed by a Division I school means the extra training paid off, Jaylin said.
Several of her Bandits teammates have also accepted scholarships to Division I schools, so there is a good chance many of her current allies will one day become rivals, she said.
Bailey Dowling, the Bandits shortstop from St. Joseph, Ill., has played by Jaylin’s side for two years. That homer off of Fouts — moments like that — aren’t uncommon, she said. Jaylin regularly inspires her teammates to push forward even when the odds are against them.
“Off the field, she’s my best friend. On the field, she’s a leader by example,” Bailey said. “She’ll go out of her comfort zone to help carry the team.”
Bailey, a high school sophomore, accepted a scholarship to the University of Alabama. When the inseparable duo goes to college, Bailey will join the Crimson Tide and become Jaylin’s sworn enemy.
Of course, even that won’t affect their friendship, Bailey said with a giggle.
“We’ve already made plans to go to the beach together during breaks,” Bailey said.
A 4.0 student, Calvert prioritizes her academics as much as her physical training. Calvert hopes to become an orthopedic doctor, a path she knows will take hours hitting the books, so she will need to focus on time management once she’s in college, she said.
But the future Auburn Tiger already has her mind set on becoming a champion.
“I know the girls going there. … I’m going to get to play with the best and against the best,” Calvert said. “Even just having the opportunity to play in a college world series one day at that level is so exciting.”