The most dominant Husky in any sport over the last couple decades has returned with her husband and their four-month-old daughter for UW making her the first softball player to have her jersey retired on Saturday night. She knows it won’t be her last time here.
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE – The most dominant Husky in any sport over the last couple decades was back on her own home field. She was standing on the outfield warning track in front of the logo and sign commemorating Washington’s first national championship – the one she earned as the national player of the year five years ago.
But she wasn’t standing tall. She was too busy leaning down to help her four-month-old daughter stand upright.
The scene was the essence of Danielle Lawrie. The current, post-Huskies one.
Not just for how darn cute it was -- little Madison trying to become "the youngest kid ever to walk," as her mom joked Friday afternoon while she was holding her upright.
But also for what it represents.
Lawrie, the dominant, two-time national-player-of-the-year, national-champion ace for the Huskies' softball team from 2006-10, added "Locke" to her name when she recently married former Houston Astros Triple-A outfielder Drew Locke.
And more than being only the fifth Husky player ever and first softball player to have her jersey retired, more than being a Canadian Olympian and now a professional pitcher, she is a mom.
A very devoted, proud mom.
Lawrie was self-assured and family-first in her return to Husky Softball Stadium the day before UW retires her jersey at 6:45 p.m., just before the 11th-ranked Huskies host No. 9 Arizona at 7:05 p.m. The ace essentially said softball has been great. But coming back soon to raise a family in the Pacific Northwest will be greater.
"I've always been a family girl at heart," Lawrie, who turned 27 last month, said with a chuckle three weeks before starting her season pitching for National Pro Fastpitch's USSSA Pride out of Kissimmee, Fla. "I'd like to have kids before that age, you know, when it gets a little harder."
She says she will play with the Pride "for sure this year, perhaps next year.
"It's an adjustment. This will be my first summer trying to juggle it all, and I think without help it's not possible."
Sounds like a job for a mom. Danielle's, in fact.
Lawrie's team's chief executive officer and general manager, Don DeDonatis, is permitting his star pitcher to bring her mother Cheryl on each of the Pride's road trips. The team is paying for a separate living space and rental car for the Lawries and Danielle's baby in each road city this season, which begins May 30.
Locke, whom the Los Angeles Dodgers drafted out of Boston College in June 2005, is working for Oracle as an account manager for systems in Boston. That's near where he grew up in Weymouth, Mass.
As Danielle spoke Friday, dad and grandma were pushing a stroller with Winnie the Pooh attached to the side along the warning track.
"It's been a juggle just trying to get back into shape and manage how to take care of her, and my husband's working a full-time job, too," Lawrie, a native of Langley, British Columbia, a couple hours north of Seattle, said while standing just outside the batting cages at Husky Softball Stadium.
When she became pregnant last year she considered what she would need to be what she wanted to be: A mom first and a pitcher second. She went to DeDonatis and said to the Pride's owner, "If you want me to play, can you make this happen?"
"He was so supportive," she said.
"You don't really know what it's like until you have your own (child). So I've just been trying to soak up every minute with her. Ever since I've I had her, it's been going by so quick."
Sounds like her professional softball career will, too. Lawrie says her life plan is to move back to Washington "in the next year and a half and establish our life and raise our children."
"You just miss being around everybody," she said of the Huskies. "I mean, these guys are my family. They gave me the opportunity to come here and get a degree and let me meet people who are going to have a huge impact on the rest of my life.
"I just want to get back here. I want to be close to my family. I want to help the University of Washington softball program in whatever way I can. Because I want someone to come in and beat my records. I want the opportunity for them to win another national championship so badly. So any way I can help, that's what I want to do with this program."
She was noticeably excited just to be in the same UW stadium in which she led the Huskies to their highest softball heights. She marveled over the team's new locker room behind the stadium's grandstand.
When she first saw the facility she said to Huskies coach Heather Tarr, who recruited her out of Canada to UW: "Oh, my God! Why didn't we get this when we played here?"
Lawrie's success is part of the reason the program has what it does today.
She is the Huskies' career leader in wins, complete games, shutouts, and strikeouts. Her six no-hitters are the most among any individual Washington pitcher. She was astounding in 2009: 42-8 with a 0.97 ERA and 521 strikeouts in 352.2 innings. She led the Huskies to their first national championship and won her first of two consecutive USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year awards.
Since she graduated from UW in 2010, Lawrie has pitched professionally in Japan – six, hard months away from Locke in a land in which she didn’t speak the language -- and now for the USSSA Pride based in Kissimmee, Fla.
She says her best memory of UW was not just beating Florida for the championship of the 2009 Women's College World Series in Oklahoma City. It was the three-week run that led to that first national title. All of it came on the road, starting with an epic regional at Massachusetts. The Huskies overcome the 2,963-mile trip to Amherst, Mass., plus UMass' three-time All-American pitcher Brandice Balschmiter, to beat the Minutewomen twice in three games. The deciding game was Washington's 6-1 win in 15 innings, the night Lawrie struck out twenty-four. The Huskies had an easier time in their 2009 Super Regional match-up in Atlanta, sweeping Georgia Tech in two games.
"That whole journey made us so strong," Lawrie said. "It connected us for life.
"This is the coolest thing, being able to be back here. Just having the fans and, I mean, have so much family and so many friends that are going to be here ... I'm obviously extremely humbled by this opportunity. So many people to thank.
"It's not just all about me. Without all the teammates, the friends, Coach Tarr recruiting me, then obviously none of this is even possible."