Nov. 17, 2011
By Briana Coyne
Alexa Maldonado says she was three years old the first time she threw a ball.
At thirteen, Maldonado vividly remembers being on the mound for a win against Clark in the district baseball finals.
Now, as a senior on the Irish softball team, Maldonado credits the success she's had thus far to the unwavering support of her family.
"The way I describe myself to people is that I am very family-oriented," she says. "That is the first thing I say."
Growing up in Millburn, N.J., Maldonado comes from a very close-knit Italian-Puerto Rican family that is very active in sports. One sport in particular that is important to the Maldonado family is baseball.
Maldonado's father, Frank, played baseball at Manhattan College and now shares his passion for the sport with Alexa and her three younger brothers. His knowledge of baseball helped Maldonado properly learn the fundamentals so she could excel on the softball diamond.
"It was the coolest thing. He coached me all through my career. He still coaches me now. I've always looked to him for advice and trust that he knows what he is talking about."
Head coach Deanna Gumpf says the elder Maldonado's mentality when coaching Alexa played an important role in her development as an athlete.
"Because of his background, it made sense for him to work with her as a baseball player. He gave her great guidance and he was a great teacher for her," remarks Gumpf. "I think the best thing they ever did was treat her as an athlete and not as a girl. By treating her as an athlete, they taught her the nuts and bolts that every kid should know about the game."
Maldonado's mother, whom she calls "her best friend," played an equally important role early on by driving her to countless games, practices and lessons. This allowed her to become the best player that she could be.
"Both my parents have made me the person that I am today. They have done an unbelievable job raising me the right way, teaching me the meaning of hard work, passion, love, respect and most of all, family."
Maldonado also is active in her brothers' baseball careers. Whenever home, she is outside throwing and hitting with them as well as giving them pointers.
"All of my immediate family and relatives have been here for me my whole life. With every decision I have made, they have been there," Maldonado explains. "They have helped me make the best decisions possible for me."
There was one decision in particular that Maldonado was hesitant to agree with - her transition from baseball to softball.
"It was the summer going into eighth grade that I had to make the switch. I was devastated. I thought I was going to play high school baseball, but my dad suggested that I switch sports," explains Maldonado. "He said it would be more beneficial for me to do that when it came to looking to play in college. Now looking back on it, it was the best and most obvious choice."
This transition from baseball to softball was fairly effortless for Maldonado because of her strong understanding of the mechanics and fundamentals.
In her freshman year at Notre Dame, Gumpf said it was evident that being away from her family and home was a challenge for Maldonado. But it wasn't too long before she "figured out her place here."
Since then, Maldonado has proven to be a key player for the Irish leading the team in their 2011 campaign with the most runs (55), hits (74), doubles (14) and triples (3).
"If someone were to ask me on your team right now, who do you think has grown the most? I would say it's Alexa," remarks Gumpf. "I feel like she has become a great leader for our team."
Last spring, the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) named Maldonado to first team all-Great Lakes Region honors. Earlier that season, during the UCF Invitational, Maldonado went 7-for-14 from the plate with three hits for extra bases (double, triple, home run) and had a slugging percentage of .929. This impressive performance resulted in Maldonado receiving a BIG EAST Player of the Week accolade.
"The one thing that has been her constant, her go-to, here at Notre Dame has been the game of softball. I feel that is home for her. No matter where she is playing," remarks Gumpf. "You know you are going to get the best Alexa on the field."
This past summer, Maldonado had the opportunity to return to baseball and play with the U.S. Women's National Team in Cary, N.C.
"When I am on the field it is the most amazing feeling in the world. It's an escape from the stresses of life. All that matters is the moment," describes Maldonado. "It is an unbelievable feeling to be so passionate about a simple game."
"I love watching her play," states Gumpf. "She looks like she is at home when she is playing the game."
For Maldonado, home has two different meanings, but both are strongly tied to one another.