July 16, 2012

Jenny Esparza Feature

Leaving Mexico in search of a better life in America. Moving out of a cramped apartment in order to escape southern California. A father who works two jobs to support his family. Despite all of this adversity, a star rises to become the top pitcher in the league. This may sound like the newest inspirational sports movie from Disney, but it's not. This is the life of Butler softball pitcher Jenny Esparza.

Thanks to her motto of 'no excuses, just do it,' Esparza became the 2011 Horizon League Pitcher of the Year and the 2012 preseason pitcher of the year. Most fans know Jenny as the stone-faced ace, but many don't know about what she and her family have been through to get to this point.

"Ever since I was born, we have fought for a better life and that is something I take with me wherever I go," Esparza said. "I have to have that same passion to always better myself."

Her parents, Daniel and Mireya, moved from Chihuahua, Mexico, to Santa Ana, Calif., shortly before Jenny was born. Even at a young age, her parents recognized there was something special about her.

"Jenny is the talented one in the family," her father Daniel said with a laugh. "She was always good at everything. Soccer, music, school. Doesn't matter."

Esparza was always active as a youngster in southern California. She began practicing karate and playing soccer from a very young age and started playing organized baseball with boys at 6 years old. After a successful first year playing baseball, her coach encouraged her to move over to softball.

However, her career was interrupted when her family relocated to Indiana. Her father, who still works two jobs to help support the family, said their small cramped apartment was too small for a family of four and that he and Mireya wanted to find a better place to raise their children.

The family was able to find refuge in the small central Indiana town of Avon. They were finally able to sprawl out into a larger one-family home, and experience life in the suburbs away from the urban chaos of L.A. The one thing that didn't change was Esparza's continuing success.

Esparza continued playing a variety of sports in Avon as well as playing in the school band. Her determination, hard work and impressive athletic skill led her to a myriad of awards, including being named to the All-State team three times and receiving the coveted Miss Softball Indiana award.

Her impressive play in high school paid off for Esparza, receiving a full scholarship to Butler that her father calls, "a blessing," especially considering that she is the first person in her family to attend college. She went on to break school records in strikeouts and wins as a freshman and has been named to the All-Horizon League team in her two seasons. However, there is more to this success story off the mound.

"Jenny has always been a good kid and a good student," Daniel Esparza said. "She never really had any issues at all."

Professor Christine Taylor said that Esparza does have something very unique.

"You can tell she's passionate about her academic life outside of sports, which you don't see too often," Taylor said.

That's the main reason why Esparza says her proudest achievement isn't softball related. She made the honor roll her sophomore year thanks to her never-say-die attitude.

"Athletics pushes me hard to work at everything," she said. "Without good grades you can't play, so it pushes me to be the best I can at everything."

With softball and academic success having already been reached, those closest to Esparza say you can really see her becoming who she truly is.

Professor Taylor comments that Esparza, although being a seriously hard worker, is the kind of person that always brightens up a room.

"You can tell she just genuinely enjoys life," Taylor said.

If fans just watch Esparza interact with her friends for five minutes, they can see how right Professor Taylor is. On a warm Thursday evening after a win over cross-town foe IUPUI, Esparza immediately began joking around with catcher and best friend Alyssa Coleman. Esparza and Coleman began chasing each other with the dislodged bases. Coleman then decided it would be best for Jenny to spend some time alone with the equipment she loved so much and locked her in the team's equipment shed as coach Scott Hall looked on with a smile. Esparza's immediate reaction, after being freed, was to run over to Coleman and put her in a bear hug and sarcastically whisper, "I hate you" before running off.

"She's fun, but mischievous so watch out for that," Coleman said with a smile.

The constantly jovial Hall sees the brightness she and her family bring to the team.

"Her family is great," Hall said. "Their story is amazing, and it really has helped make her who she is. She's a great person to be around."

The best part of Esparza's story may be that she recognizes how fortunate she truly is. Esparza stays humble and never gloats about her success and only dwells on failures to learn from them and improve herself. She realizes she has been given a truly special gift and encourages other athletes to do the same.

"Being a student-athlete really opens a lot of doors to a lot of things," she said. "If you're a top athlete and a top student and work hard, you can do anything you want to."

-- by Michael Van De Voort '13