If anybody is a product of softball in the Napa Valley, it’s Carolyn Woods.
Known as Carolyn Knudson before she married fellow 2006 Vintage High graduate Thomas Woods, she started at age 7 with the Napa Junior Girls Softball League and finished her career locally with two seasons at Napa Valley College.
Who better to be keynote speaker for the NJGSL’s 52nd Opening Day ceremony on Saturday?
“It’s really great to come back and talk to kids about how it affected me starting here and being able to pursue my goals in this sport and have my family and the community behind me to keep me going,” Woods said after the ceremony.
Other NJGSL alumni involved in this year’s proceedings included Napa High senior pitcher Kimmie Walston and Vintage High senior catcher Sierra Crocker, who threw out and caught the first pitch, and Napa High senior infielder Lindsay Lehman, who sang the national anthem while on crutches from an injury sustained in the Grizzlies’ season opener last Monday.
According to Woods’ introduction, read by NJGSL President Karly Michie, Woods picked up a bat for the first time when she was 2 and, roped into babysitting, her grandfather got her into softball. After playing tee ball for several years, she began playing softball while in the third grade.
Along with several travel ball teams, she played in the Napa Valley Girls Fastpitch Association at Kiwanis Park and was named Majors Division Rookie of the Year in 2002, and Seniors Division Rookie of the Year in 2004 and Most Valuable Player in 2005.
Woods pitched for Vintage High School from 2003 to 2006, when she helped lead the Crushers to their first Monticello Empire League championship in more than a decade.
She got an offer to play for Sonoma State, but decided to attend NVC. She ended her freshman season ranked second in the state with a career-high batting average of .544, which included 87 hits in 160 at bats. While playing for the Storm, Woods was named First Team All-State in 2007 and 2008, and was named Bay Valley Conference Pitcher of the Year in 2007 and 2008.
Woods transferred to San Francisco State on an athletic scholarship to pitch for the Gators. While there, she was an NFCA Scholar-Athlete and was named to the all-conference Academic Team in 2009 and 2010. She now teaches elementary school physical education for the Napa Valley Unified School District, gives private hitting and pitching lessons, and takes care of her nearly 3-year-old daughter and two younger sons.
“Hopefully they’ll all play ball, too,” she said of her children. “This league is very supportive and there’s always opportunities to get better, whether it’s with private lessons or going on travel teams.
“Napa’s a really great place to play softball. We have excellent coaches and we have a lot of talent here – a lot – and we’re very lucky to have such a great organization to start at and build that foundation.”
She encouraged those who aspire to play college softball to make sure it’s at the right school.
“It’s a little more competitive now because everybody wants a scholarship,” she said. “But the most important thing to remember is it’s just a game and you gotta have fun with it. Otherwise, you get burned out. This idea that junior colleges aren’t worth going to for softball, that you have to go right to a four-year college, is not true. I think the reason I was able to be so successful at San Francisco State was because I had that foundation at Napa Valley College.”
She said her favorite NJGSL coach was probably Leonard Lamb.
“He was just very knowledgeable and encouraging, and he put a lot of faith in me and my teammates and never got mad at us,” she said. “He helped us learn the game instead of just playing it.”
Walston played in the NJGSL from age 8 to 12 and then travel ball for the Napa Valley Express, Easton Elite and NorCal Batbusters. This summer, she will play for Universal Fastpitch. The daughter of Napa High head coach Ron Walston, she is in her fourth varsity season at the school and helped win the program’s first section title in 2017. She has committed to Holy Names University in Oakland to continue her education and softball career for the NCAA Division II Hawks.
Crocker has been playing since she was 9, and catching for five years. She was a varsity teammate of Walston and Lehman as a freshman at Napa High before transferring to Vintage. She has played for travel teams such as R&R Gold, NorCal Batbusters and, now, the Ohana Tigers.
Lehman, along with being in her fourth varsity softball season, has been a part of the Napa High choir program for four years and the Chamber Choir for two years. She also has played softball for 10 years, five with the NJGSL. She has maintained a 4.5 GPA throughout her years at Napa High and will begin attending a four-year university in California and majoring in chemical engineering in the fall.
The NJGSL was founded in 1967 and “has been promoting teamwork and sportsmanship, enhancing self-esteem, developing softball skills, and creating lifelong memories and friendships in a fun, safe, supportive environment,” according to the league, which has tee ball for ages 5-6 and fastpitch for ages 7-12.
The league this year has five teams in the 6-and-under age division, four in the 8U division, five in the 10U division, and four in the 12U division.
During her opening speech, Michie thanked Community Projects, which “has provided NJGSL with a generous grant that will help improve our fields and equipment as well as provide scholarships for players.”
Also on the NJGSL board are vice president Josh Chaddock, secretary Jamie Perez, treasurer Zena Page, snack shack coordinator Leanna Yaeger, and umpire coordinator Michael Michie.
Prizes raffled off were a new bicycle from The Hub, a necklace with softball-themed charm/pendant from Napa Valley Jewelers, softball helmets and batting gloves from Dub’s Sports, a gift card from Toy B Ville, books from Copperfield’s, a family pass for four to the Sacramento Zoo, drink coupons from Nekter, sweatshirts from Kiwanis, Boombah softball bags from Napa Valley Express, tickets to Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, the San Francisco Giants’ River Cats Triple-A team’s games in Sacramento, Oakland A’s games and Gilroy Gardens, and gift cards from JAX White Mule Diner, Heritage Eats, YoBelle Bel Aire and Big 5.