When you ask Amaia Daniel about Ball State softball, she has three words:
“A second family.”
She won’t boast about her achievements with the Cardinals, even though she ranks in the top 20 of 17 different statistical categories in program history and in the top 10 of eight of those categories.
She won’t talk about her love of the game; she will speak of her love for her teammates, her “second family.”
“There's people on this team who have known me for that long, and there's people who I deeply trust with many, many things, and I respect them deeply,” she said. “I could honestly call them family, and I could treat them like family.”
The Back of The Bus
During her first year at Ball State, Amaia roomed with current softball athlete fourth-year Jazmyne Armendariz.
“She was my first friend in college, and we instantly clicked with each other,” Armendariz said. “And she's probably one of the funniest people I know, if not the funniest person I know.”
That comedic tone continued into this season. On road trips, the upper-class students sit in the back of the bus.
“There's not a time where we are not laughing,” Amaia said smiling. “Sometimes, we get in trouble for it. But it's moments like those where you're like, I'm gonna remember these people forever because, like, these are my sisters.”
But when Amaia calls her teammates her “sisters,” they think the same way about her. On senior day, Amaia walked down the third base line to home plate with her parents and her dog, Zeke. After that, she was honored with flowers and other celebratory items. She was also given a party later that night.
“I am about to tear up just talking about her right now,” Armendariz said. “I just got to come into college and meet somebody like her and somebody that's so down to earth and so genuine. She genuinely cares about the people around her. She has made me a better person, and I'm really lucky to know her and to get to play with her.”
That mutual love is what kept Amaia from thinking about leaving. Before Ball State head coach Lacy Schurr took the reign of head coach, Amaia was recruited and chose to play under then-head coach Megan Ciolli Barlett. As seen in today's college athletics, players sometimes choose to transfer when confronted with that situation. But not Amaia.
“My teammates kept me here, and there are people that like I knew I cared for and who I played for. And I know that they cared about me, and I was gonna stay to just be around them, and I committed to this team, and I wanted to stick it out.”
But when it comes to teammates, the bond between her and Armendariz will always be special.
“I was talking to [Armendariz] the other day,” Amaia said. “She has seen me for five birthdays. That's five years. … That's more than some of my family members have seen me, like great uncles and second cousins, you know, and that's direct family.”
When it comes to her actual family, they are very proud. Amanda and David try to travel to every game, and when David can't make it, Amanda will still be there.
“Our whole life since she's been to college, we don't go on family trips,” David said. “We don't. All of our vacation goes watching her play softball. It's been like that ever since she's been playing competitively.”
After games, Amanda can be found sharing anything from her daughter’s games.
“It's so amazing but it's kind of embarrassing,” Amaia said, chuckling. “But I love it. I love them so much because having a support system like that, I don't know what I would do if I didn't have a support system like that. They've always supported me no matter what, bad or good. My dad always just told me, ‘Just take the punch, and keep it going, and go get the next game.’ My mom was always the supportive one.”
But to understand her reasoning you have to go back to where she began.
New Mexico to Ohio
Daniel was born in New Mexico, but she was only in the “Land of Enchantment” for around five weeks.
Her mother, Amanda Daniel, is from the state and met her husband, and Amaia’s father, David, in the United States Army. David is originally from Ohio, and after he retired from the military, the family moved there.
“I was born and raised on the Navajo reservation in New Mexico,” Amanda said. “That's where I had Amaia. A lot of the high schools there, like my high school, have a lot of players that go play Division I, but the Division I sport is basketball.”
David was a big reason his daughter picked up a bat and a glove in the first place.
“My dad was a huge sports guy,” Amaia said. “He taught me everything I knew or had to know about baseball, softball, … tried to teach me soccer, but I just stuck with softball. He was a catcher growing up, so I kind of stuck into that role when I was younger.”
Going into Rutherford B. Hayes High School in Delaware, Ohio, Amaia played softball and volleyball. Freshman year of high school was when she started to take softball more seriously.
“I think that was when competition kind of started to arise,” she said. “Because there's like varsity sports and JV sports. And that's where athletes kind of get set aside when they realize like, ‘Oh, like I'm pretty good at this. I could probably go to college [for that sport].’”
Amaia’s varsity softball head coach and current head coach at Hayes City High School, Mark Thomas, believes it was her work ethic.
“She was the same type of player she is now,” Thomas said. “I mean, she goes at it at 100 plus percent. If it's practice or games, she studies the game. She studied the game all the time with her dad and with me. She is basically a workaholic in the game of softball.”
Thomas explained if Amaia had a game where she wasn’t happy with her offensive performance, she would go home and practice for hours. Today, she doesn’t really do that.
“My dad wants me to,” Amaia said laughing. “But not anymore. I would like to say I've gotten a little bit wiser, and it's not about hitting for two hours straight. Bad games happen.”
Thomas has many favorite memories with Amaia, but what he remembers about her the most was the way she grew into who she is now.
He remembers when she first started attending his softball camps. At that time, she was dipping her toes into the water. But after practice and hard work, she is now one of Ball State’s most successful softball players.
“Seeing her come to my softball camp at a young age,” he said, “... and then seeing her grow, and not only softball wise, but mentally and physically, through high school and to the awesome softball player that she is today.”
Meant To Be?
When Amaia started the recruiting process, she didn’t know where to start.
“I honestly wasn't talking to that many schools,” she said. “My parents were not college athletes … so they were pretty new to the recruiting process, and I didn't really know what I was doing, other than just going into camps and just trying to ball out.”
On Amanda’s side of the family, no one had gone on to play a Division I college sport. That made this process a little difficult.
“I did my research,” Amanda said. “We [and David] both talked to coaches. She went to a lot of camps at 14, 15 years old, so a lot of the coaches would kind of give us tips on how to go about the process.”
On some of her first unofficial visits, Amaia went to a bigger Division I university, but Amaia was not a fan.
“She didn't want to be at a big, big school,” David said. “And we left it all up to her and when we took her to the official visit, they gave her the offer, and she jumped all over it. She said this is where I want to go to school.”
However, Amaia had another reason for coming to Ball State.
“When I got here, I thought it was the craziest thing,” she said. “I'm from Delaware, Ohio, and then coming to Muncie, … and it's Delaware County, I thought that was crazy. I was like, oh, it's meant to be.”
Her Success and Legacy at BSU
Before this season began, Schurr believed that Amaia would be one of the leaders on the team because of her actions. Nearing the end, she still believes it.
“She has been here for a long time, " Schurr said. “She’s been through coaching changes, both assistant and head coaches. Her demeanor brings everything to the team. She is quiet, confident … and her skills are backing it up. I think people look to her to be a leader and an example. Some people can crumble under that pressure, but she seems to drive under that.”
The third-year head coach is not lying. Amaia currently has a batting average of .419 with 57 hits and 28 RBIs. When it comes to her career charts, she is most proud of her doubles and RBIs.
“I feel like growing up, and I can say thanks to my hitting instructor, Micaela Minner because she would always talk about how many doubles she hit when she was in college,” Amaia said. “So I was pretty inspired by that. And I grew up being a so-called gap-to-gap hitter and always working on doubles, and home runs were like happy accidents.”
When Schurr discussed her infielders legacy at Ball State, she had one word: impressive.
“I think that every year that I have been here, she has continued to get better,” she said. “But it’s not just who she is on the field, it is what she does off the fields and the kind of person she is. She has developed into an amazing young woman, and I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to coach her.”
When it comes to life after Ball State, Amaia is still unsure of what her plans are. She has a degree in marketing. Another big moment for her future took place before senior day. Before the game, her boyfriend Jack Blanco, a redshirt junior safety on the football team, proposed.
‘It was Good Friday,” David said. “He asked Amanda and I if we could meet him at Roots [Burger Bar]. He wanted to talk to us about something, and he graciously bought us lunch. He asked us for our blessing, and we love the kid to death, so we told him sure.”
Amaia does have one idea she wants to follow through with. She would like to stick around the game she has played since being a kid.
“I would love to coach somewhere,” she said. “... I feel like I've learned a lot in my five years here. And I would love to share that knowledge with other players and just like [help]other players as well.”
David has coached her since she started playing the game. Even now, Amaia is an assistant coach for the Ohio Lady Lasers Orange. It is an 18 and-under elite travel softball team that she and David have helped coach for three years.
If she was to become a college coach, she thinks she would have the same quiet qualities she has now.
“I would be the calm and collected coach,” she said. “I think I would bring a lot of composure to the team because I'm not one who would freak out when something goes bad. I mean, I can bring energy when it's needed, but I'm a very composed person.”
David thinks the same thing about her. While he describes himself as a coach that will get in your face and get fired up, he believes his daughter would be the complete opposite.
Whatever her future holds, she will finish her collegiate career with multiple accolades. But with two series left, she thought about how she wanted to be remembered.
“I would say I would want to be remembered as a good teammate, somebody who inspired my teammates, and yeah, somebody who, after softball is over, could call them,” she said. “They would be able to call me up and say, ‘Hey, Amaia, what are you doing?’ And then we could go out to dinner.”
Contact Zach Carter with comments at email@example.com or on Twitter @ZachCarter85.