Major League Baseball is for the Birds! A Gamecock Softball Great in the Big Leagues
Since we moved to the woods years ago, I mostly think of birds as the slightly maniacal, always startling, winged nuts that fling themselves into our closed windows.
I’d like to claim it’s because I keep our windows so crystal-clear that the birds can’t help but assume they’re flying safe on the horizon.
But as the bazillions of spiders—as well as the occasional Amazon driver familiar with our house—clearly knows, that’s an outrageous lie.
Our windows are hardly clean and, having walked directly into a few glass doors myself without the excuse of excess drink or drug, I think our birds are just dumb.
But a recent chat I had with a former Gamecock Great has me rethinking what I think about birds.
I didn’t start off wanting to talk with Tina Plew Whitlock about birds.
Actually, I wanted to talk with Tina about her bat. Her very big softball bat. A bat so big it captured the attention of Major League Baseball.
Whitlock, a former Gamecock softball two-time All-American who helped her 1997 squad nab the SEC championship and a trip to the Women’s College World Series, went on to play for the U.S. National Team and the pros before becoming a coach.
Now she’s taken that bat of hers and punched another hole in the glass ceiling. She’s signed a coaching contract with the St. Louis Cardinals and is starting a new adventure down in Palm Beach, where the Cards are in spring training.
She’s what’s called a fourth coach—a hybrid position that, if you like to play ball and be on the field, is way cool. She’ll be hitting and throwing some batting practice, and also be taking to the stands, where she’ll be doing some high-level scouting.
But most importantly, she’ll be being Tina. And that’s what really gives this moment, and her story, wings.
See, it’s special and all that Tina is a woman stepping into Major League Baseball. But that’s not the point. As a girl who grew up on baseball and made the switch to softball, who tried on all sports for size and found joy and value even in those in which she didn’t excel (like, maybe basket-weaving or something), it’s not about gender. It’s about chasing greatness.
And the greatest athletes and coaches all bring distinctive gifts to the game.
Outwardly, Tina’s gifts are obvious—flawless mechanics and a keen mind for the game. Decades of experience and success at the highest levels of her sport. Too many wins to count.
But Tina Whitlock is truly unique because of what she’s lost.
She has so much to offer because she can tell you how to cope when your perfect game plan gets torched and you’re left with nothing but the choice to quit or start over.
It’s her command of the comeback that helps makes her an extraordinary coach.
It doesn’t say on Tina Plew Whitlock’s resume that she married her college sweetheart. That a sure sign the Gamecocks had dominated on the road was when Tina Plew’s boyfriend, Brian Whitlock, trailed behind the Gamecock bus in his own truck, two brooms sticking out from the back windows, signifying Tina and the girls had swept their series.
She married that man, her most devoted fan on and off the softball field. They had one son, Aaron, and a couple years later, Tina was pregnant with their second when Brian suddenly and shockingly passed away from an undiagnosed heart ailment.
In the space of just nine days, Tina Plew Whitlock buried her soulmate and delivered his namesake, Brian Kelly Whitlock.
And that’s where our birds fly into this story.
Tina is a woman of deep faith who leaned hard into God during her walk through the valley of darkness. She says intercessory prayer buoyed her and her boys in the immediate wake of her husband’s death, and she said she just “kept walking” through it. With God by her side.
When she felt strong enough to coach, this 20-something packed up her little family and moved to New York, to a college coaching job and a deep desire to “live like the birds,” trusting that God would take care of them and provide for their needs.
She made Matthew 6:26 her family mantra: “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”
She laughs that God has a great sense of humor. In New York, her family moved into a renovated barn.
It would be the first step of many professional opportunities nationally and internationally over the years.
Along the way, Tina would wrestle with her faith and her disappointment that she was flying solo.
But the thing is, when you wrestle with God, He always wins. But you win more.
And that’s what happened with Tina.
Eventually she flew back to the One who had been there all along.
At first she sought solace. Then God asked her to serve others who’ve traveled the same journey. She started a ministry called “Birds of Blessings” that encourages other young women.
And when Major League Baseball came calling, she asked God, “Is it time to swing for the fences?”
His answer was a contract with the big leagues.
They say a cardinal represents a loved one who has passed; that when you see one, it means they are visiting you. As the thinking goes, cardinals usually show up when you need them or miss them most to let you know they will always be with you.
While Brian Whitlock was a Braves fan, Tina knows it’s no coincidence God has her coaching this team at this time.
All those years ago when Brian died and that door was slammed shut, Tina Plew Whitlock made a choice—a promise, actually—to live like the birds.
And God responded by throwing open a window, and in His perfect time—in flew the Cardinals.
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