Mara Hamm will leave a lasting impression on area softball.
Just not the way she hoped.
Coming off a spectacular junior season where she posted an ERA that hovered around 1 all season, the Times-Tribune All-Region pitcher was hoping to continue her success and lead Abington Heights to another District 2 title and the state softball tournament.
That didn’t play out because of the coronavirus pandemic, but Hamm’s legacy on the diamond might come from what she leaves behind.
Five nights a week, and sometimes six, Hamm can be found at Hillside Park where she’s teaching the craft of pitching to the eager minds of young pitchers who hope to do what Hamm did a year ago — dominate.
At just 5-foot tall, Hamm didn’t overpower hitters, but she used a Greg Maddux-type approach, combining an assortment of pitches, change of speeds and pinpoint location to post a 17-2 mark.
“Maybe the high 50s if I really rare back,” Hamm said of her fastball, noting that she’s more effective when she doesn’t throw as hard, one of the points of emphasis she works on with the 12 to 15 girls who show up each week.
“I think that having movement and having good spin is the most important thing to making good pitches, definitely not throwing it as hard as you can every single time,” Hamm said. “That’s the thing I like to preach to the girls I teach. First of all, balance is the best thing. It’s crucial for a pitcher. When pitchers are in balance with good mechanics, they obviously will be able to throw faster.
“Once they master the balance and the weight transfer, I move on and I start to show them how to change speeds, get more movement and spin the ball as much as they can, with changeups and curves and drop pitches for the young girls.”
Hamm’s tutorial days started last summer with a couple players from her Impact Panthers travel ball organization.
“Then it grew into the Abingtons, then North Pocono area, Wallenpaupack, Western Wayne, Scranton. It just grew,” Hamm said. “I thought it would just be a small group because I just started this in the Panthers community. It’s one-on-one lessons for all of them, but it was only a few girls I was giving lessons to in the beginning.
“I just really like to be around the game as much as possible and just giving back to the community is something that is really important to me. I always make time for the young girls.”
That was one of the characteristics that led Marywood University softball coach John Butash to recruit Hamm, who will major in the physician’s assistant program and play for the Pacers next season.
“She’s just a top-notch individual,” said Butash, “She loves the game. She obviously loves pitching. But she doesn’t just love pitching in the game. She loves the whole idea. The technique, the strategy, the different pitches, she wants to pass that along to the younger ones. She enjoys it so much.”
Hamm also epitomizes what Butash wants from his recruits.
“We’re talking blue-collar players in terms of what they do,” Butash said. “They come from an area where everyone worked hard. They have a work ethic at practice, when you see them in high school or in travel ball, they’re not going through the motions. It’s purposeful.
“Mara fits that mold. She’s very intelligent. Her priorities are in order. Student, athlete. Her softball is a nice part of her overall education, but it’s not her focus. But we have a strong program and it’s part of the whole college experience.”
Hamm came from a strong program, too, and is doing her part to ensure that continues.
“I thought about everyone in the softball community who helped me improve,” Hamm said. “My high school coaches, my travel coaches, my dad and all my assistant coaches. I realized how important it is to give back to the community and help young girls. That’s really why I started doing it.”
The fact that it’s continued into the pandemic has proven to be a bonus for everyone involved.
“With teams not being able to practice, just to get girls outside is really important,” Hamm said.
On the downside, social distancing prevents close contact, but Hamm works around some of the hands-on teaching by demonstrating techniques for her protegees.
It also is helping Hamm.
“It’s definitely beneficial for me, also,” Hamm said. “I think you start to master something when you are able to teach others. Demonstrating, and just saying what you need to do. Reinforcing the fundamentals of pitching reinforces it for me and helps my muscle memory, and makes me a better pitcher.”
It’s also fostered an enjoyment of coaching that Hamm hopes to pursue.
“I could see myself doing this in the future,” Hamm said. “I like when I hear the girls are doing well, great success stories from the girls I’ve coached. A lot of them are improving their spin, their speed, their movement after just a couple weeks of working with me.
“If they feel they are improving and so do their parents, that’s really important for me. It makes me want to keep doing it.”