And there is something that never changes when softball slugger Kaylee Fox connects for a deep home run.
“You get the chills,” said Fox, a 2014 Edison graduate. “The one thing you always remember when you hit a home run is that feeling. As soon as you hit it off the bat, you’re like, ‘this is gone.’”
Fox knows the feeling quite well by now. After one of the greatest offensive careers in area and Ohio history, she went on to become one of the most prolific home run hitters in NCAA Division III history at Trine University, where she just wrapped up her collegiate career last month.
“When you really get into a pitch, you get to stand there — and I got in trouble for it sometimes because I would stand there too much — but you definitely get the chills and this excited feeling that you just cranked a ball over a 213-foot wall,” Fox said.
“And then when you touch home plate and your team is there waiting for you, that’s when you say to yourself, ‘yep, this is what softball is all about,’” she added.
Not only was Fox one of 10 finalists for the NCAA Div. III Player of the Year, but her dreams of playing professional softball came to fruition on Wednesday. Fox was drafted by the 38th overall out of 76 players in the new ASBA League, a summer league based exclusively in Mobile, Ala.
Not bad for someone who arrived to Trine knowing she had a defined role.
The sales pitch
When Trine head coach Donnie Danklefsen recruited Fox to the school, he didn’t need to make promises of winning.
The Thunder had won often already, and reached the Div. III national championship series when Fox was a senior at Edison, and again last season when she was a junior.
But what Danklefsen said to Fox as a sales pitch still stands out to her today.
“It was said very matter of fact, ‘I’m going to make you good enough to help us win — and break all the records here,’” Fox said. “So I went in with that promise from him, and obviously it takes more than my coach. It takes dedication, hard work and the time you need to put in. I put that all in.”
The results showed.
Not only did Trine reach the NCAA tournament all four years and win two regional championships and one Super regional in Fox’s four years, the Thunder compiled an overall record of 135-42 (.763) in that span.
And make no mistake, Fox played the role she was asked to in a big way.
“I’m never going to beat out a ground ball on the infield,”she said. “So Coach Danklefsen had me focus on the bottom half of the ball, weirdly enough — because you’re not supposed to.”
So when she got a good swing on the ball from the middle down — it was over.
Fox became the first Thunder freshman to earn All-America honors in 2015. She batted .405 in 44 games with 10 doubles, 16 home runs and 55 RBIs.
As a sophomore, she hit .351 with 13 home runs and 40 RBIs, and as a junior added 16 home runs and 48 RBIs while batting .350.
That set the tone for a big senior season this past spring, where in 39 games Fox finished the season with 17 home runs, 63 RBIs and a .984 slugging percentage leading the team and the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association in all three categories.
She was third in the country in RBIs and home runs — and also batted a career-high .455 for the season. Earlier in the year, she broke the Trine career record for RBIs and ended her collegiate career with 206.
Fox also again earned first-team NFCA All-Region, All-MIAA and All-American honors this season.
“I was determined to go in and have the best career I could have with softball,” she said. “If I got a hold of the ball I either would have hit it out or I would have hit a sac fly to score a run or move over a runner.
“That’s what I was mainly there for,” Fox added. “Moving the runner and scoring them when needed. But the biggest mentality I had going up to bat was bottom half of the ball. I knew with my power I would take it somewhere.”
The winning culture while Fox mashed home runs didn’t start at Trine.
In the four years Fox played softball at Edison, the Chargers were 99-21 with two SBC championships, two district championships and a regional title and state semifinal appearance in Div. III (2012).
Fox, who says she can mentally place most of the home runs she’s hit at Trine — can also do the same from her Edison days. That included a mammoth, towering two-run home run at an estimated 230 feet in a 2013 district championship game vs. Upper Sandusky at Clyde High School.
“That was and unforgettable one,” she said.
Fox never hit below .448 over her final three seasons at Edison from 2012-14, and in those three seasons combined to hit 34 doubles, 29 home runs and 130 RBIs. She batted .560 as a senior in 2014.
Fox was also a three-time Northwest District and All-SBC first-team selection, and was twice selected to the All-Ohio first team.
“She’s the only player I ever coached where I refused to stand in the box out of fear that she would rip the ball at me and that I couldn’t get out of the way quick enough,” said former Edison coach Dale Dawson, who had Fox all four years in Milan. “She never got cheated out of a swing.
“She hit it hard from the time I knew her through today,” he added. “When I see her breaking home run records in college, drafted in pro ball — it’s not a surprise at all. It’s everyone else finally waking up to her ability.”
Fox is also the program record-holder for doubles (13) and home runs (15) and slugging percentage (1.143) in a season — and home runs (30) and RBI (145) in a career.
“Edison was amazing memories of being able to play against some of the best and with the best players,” Fox said.
All the fun times in high school — and reaching a high level of play in college — didn’t come without giving things up, however.
“Everything I sacrificed to get to this point was 100 percent worth it,” Fox said. “Not having the most normal life in high school by not hanging out with friends, it might sound so lame, but most people at this level can say they had to sacrifice friends, weeknights and weekends for softball tournaments — or going to see my hitting instructor, Gary Saunders, for eight years.
“I was lucky enough to have him while he was still here, (he died in December),” she added. “Just that every sacrifice you made up to this point was totally worth it, because you accomplished something you worked your whole life for.”
When Danklefsen got the phone call and email that the ASBA was going to bring Fox in, her stomach dropped and she didn’t believe it.
“I didn’t know what to do,” she said. “I called my dad and told him I was going to be a professional softball player. It was a really good feeling, and like I said before, the sacrifices, everything fell into place at that moment and it felt right.”
The league will initially consists of four teams that will compete from June 15-July 31. Selected in the 10th out of 19 rounds in the draft, Fox will play for the E1 Pro Ballers.
“I will be paid, but that’s not really the goal,” Fox said. “I get to play softball for another six weeks — and maybe beyond.”
Her first game in the league will be one week from today (June 15) in the first of 36-plus scheduled games through July.
“If they want to continue with me on the team, I’ll start traveling around as a professional softball player to California, Louisiana and Arizona,” Fox said. “I’ve worked my entire life to be able to get that phone call to be a professional player.
“No matter what happens from here, this will be a rewarding experience,” she added.