Ben Cohen

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Bartels Powers Way To Top

The Amanda Bartels lore started after her first varsity at-bat, when she smashed a home run, and officially ended after her last varsity at-bat, when she book-ended her career in the exact same fashion. The last bomb, her 25th, broke the school record for most homers in a career.

But just as Babe Ruth truly earned his iconic status when he called his shot in the World Series, Bartels reached mythic proportions on May 6 in the Bergen County tournament when one of her massive shots shattered the back windshield of teammate Lauren Gramegna’s car. The car was more than 220 feet away.

Bartels promised the outfielder she would make up for it somehow, so in her next at-bat, she hit another blast. This time, though, it crashed harmlessly into the grass beyond the center field wall. She found Gramegna immediately after she crossed home plate.

“I went up to her and said, ‘That one’s for you.’ Cheer up,” said Bartels, the 2007 Herald News Hitter of the Year. “No one parked their car over there again.”

Saddle Brook fans were wise not to. The slugger finished her senior season hitting .508 with six home runs, 41 runs and 25 RBIs. She also walked 32 times.

Her numbers are even more impressive considering she missed Saddle Brook’s first five games this season due to a hand injury, caused by a pitch she took to the hand. It was the first pitch of Saddle Brook’s 2007 season. But just as she did after sustaining a shoulder injury during her junior campaign, Bartels defied doctors’ orders and returned to the field quickly. Her first game back resulted in a 6-4 win over Pompton Lakes.

Bartels, easily the Falcons’ most imposing hitter, jumped from the three-hole to the leadoff spot midway through the year. Saddle Brook coach Darren White wanted Bartels to see better pitches, and the lineup tweak prompted the team to win 15 of 16 games. Bartels enjoyed hitting from the top position so much that she asked to remain there when White moved her down for a two-game stretch.

Although the senior catcher still walked – whether intentionally or not – Bartels, the consummate team player, said she learned to accept the free passes.

“Last year, I’d get mad when I walked,” Bartels said. “This year, I’m a lot more patient. I didn’t mind getting walked. I saw pitches better, and I was more relaxed and focused. It’s just a matter of getting older and being more mature.”

Like most other great players, Bartels showcased a flair for the dramatic. The Falcons erased a 5-0, fifth-inning deficit to Glen Rock on April 28 when she ripped a two-RBI single and came around to score the tying run. Saddle Brook went on to win the game. Bartels’ post-windshield-shattering-shot helped key the Falcons to a 10-0 rout of Tenafly in the second round of the county tournament.

It seems unlikely in the face of her extravagant statistics, but White said that plenty of Bartels’ most telling traits are overlooked by the public.

“So many little things go unnoticed besides the fact that she’s very imposing,” White said. “Her presence – it’s just the intangibles with her presence there. Every team that comes in to play us is worried about her, and she takes the pressure off of her other teammates. Sometimes when she makes an out, the next few hitters have great at-bats because the other pitcher probably relaxes.”

There were plenty of feel-good moments between home runs No. 1 and No. 25, but the one at-bat Bartels still longs for is the one that never happened. In Saddle Brook’s last game, a 4-1 loss to Pompton Lakes in the sectional final, Bartels’ career ended not with a bang but with a whimper.

She was in the on-deck circle when the last out was made.

“I never thought I wouldn’t get another at-bat,” Bartels said. “I told the person before me, ‘I’ll do anything, just get on. I’ll try my hardest. I’ll do anything I can.’ It just broke my heart, standing right then and there, knowing I could have gotten my last chance.”

Bartels has no reason to be heartsick. She will get many more at-bats, as she plans on continuing her career next year at nearby Bloomfield College.

A word of warning to Deacons softball fans: park far away from the stadium.

(The Herald News, 6/18/07)

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