WESTERN FRONT: Softball senior overcomes broken neck, stars for Vikings

WWUVIKINGSDOTCOM Haylee Baker
WWUVIKINGSDOTCOM
Haylee Baker
WWUVIKINGSDOTCOM

Oct. 29, 2013

BELLINGHAM, Wash. -

By Anna Jentoft, The Western Front

For more Western Front stories visit westernfrontonline.net - Twice-weekly student newspaper of Western Washington University

When Western Washington University softball senior shortstop Haylee Baker -- a junior at Bainbridge High School at the time -- left her home one morning in early February, 2009, she never thought her life could change so quickly in so little time.

She doesn't remember much after leaving her home on that icy morning, but she will never forget the resulting consequences.

Baker was on her way to school when she lost control of her car after hitting a corner covered in a patch of black ice. Her car spun out of control into oncoming traffic, and she was hit on the passenger side by another car.

Baker was rushed to the hospital where she found out she had broken her neck, would be in a neck brace for the next three months and would miss the entire softball season that year. Through rehabilitation exercises and acupuncture, Baker recovered in two and a half months -- half the time doctors expected her recovery to take. She was able to play the second half of the season, and helped her team win the state championship.

As devastating as the accident was at first, it helped Baker realize how much support she had.

"It taught me how precious life is," she said. "It made me realize how loved I really am."

Luckily, Baker was not seriously injured in the accident to a point where she would never be able to play again. If the fracture would have been any larger or in any other place on her neck, she could have been left paralyzed.

Today, Baker lives a completely normal and healthy lifestyle and her neck injury certainly hasn't hindered her softball skills. In fact, she has excelled in the softball world and made her way to Western.

A leader and supporter

Baker, a communications major and business administration minor, was a transfer student from Bellevue College last year. As a sophomore at Bellevue, she was named a National Fastpitch Coaches Association Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges All-American.

Baker fit right in after she transferred from Bellevue to Western, senior pitcher Jenna DeRosier said.

"It was nice that she was a transfer student because she already had playing experience with collegiate softball," DeRosier said.

As a pitcher, DeRosier works with Baker to command the infield and the speed of the game. It is also important for the shortstop to always have the pitcher's back on the field.

"She is constantly talking to me and cheering me on," DeRosier said.

Baker is known for giving her teammates high-fives and continually making sure she's doing her job as shortstop.

In her first season with the Vikings, Baker had a .228 batting average with 14 runs scored and 13 RBIs. She maintained a .906 fielding average, only committing 20 errors in 213 chances with 77 putouts and 116 assists.

Baker brings a sense of leadership and work ethic to the team, sophomore first baseman Jordan Walley said.

"Haylee is always talking and getting everyone pumped up," DeRosier said. "She has constant energy on the field."

As a player off the field, Baker has a great sense of humor, DeRosier said. She is someone all of her teammates love to be around because she can always make them laugh.

"[Haylee] has a really big heart. She'd do anything for any of her teammates," DeRosier said. "She's really outgoing and just really fun to be around."

Walley's most memorable moment of Baker as a player was in a game when a ball was hit in the gap between the shortstop and second baseman. Everyone on the team thought it was a guaranteed base hit but Baker grabbed the ball and threw the player out at first.

"She makes plays like that as a shortstop all the time," Walley said.