Hard Times Trying To Play Softball Injury And Stress Tried - And Failed - To Stop Rutgers' Danielle Dolbow.

Posted: May 01, 2000

It may not rank in popularity with Regis Philbin's asking for a final answer or polling the audience, but softball has long been a lifeline that makes Danielle Dolbow feel like a million bucks.

During her 1998 and 1999 seasons at Rutgers, however, Dolbow's worth depreciated due to injury and post-injury stress. This spring, the Pennsville High graduate is a money player once again. Coming off what she termed "the best softball of my career" as a sophomore in 1997, Dolbow was forced to redshirt in '98 after undergoing knee surgery. She could not recapture the magic of her sophomore year last season, as she slumped to .277 and struggled defensively after being switched from center to left field.

"Injuries are often more mental than physical," Rutgers coach Pat Willis said. "She probably had that fear of reinjuring it again. Subconsciously, you're thinking about being a little more hesitant, not going all out."

That seems like a distant memory now. Dolbow is back in center field and hitting with the authority she used to display. Entering weekend games at Boston College and Providence, Dolbow was second on the team with a .370 average, which included a team-high 12 doubles and two home runs and 18 RBIs.

"I'm really happy with how I'm doing now," Dolbow said. "I'm seeing the ball great. I was hoping my home run stats would be a little higher. It seems like I'm getting doubles off the fence or they're being caught at the fence."

At least she is getting some healthy cuts, which had not been the norm since Dolbow entered Rutgers.

After winning a state championship her sophomore year at Pennsville and becoming the Inquirer's player of the year as a senior, Dolbow drew recruiting interest from Rutgers, Connecticut, Princeton, Drexel and Delaware.

Wishing to stay near home and attend a school with a good engineering program and competitive softball, Dolbow found Rutgers to be the perfect fit.

As a freshman, she overcame an injured left shoulder and shinsplints to hit .320 with four home runs and 19 RBIs. As a sophomore, Dolbow earned first-team all-Big East honors with a .381 average, a team-leading 45 RBIs, and a school-record-tying seven home runs.

As it turns out, she had a little supernatural help that year.

"At one point, I was going through a little slump," Dolbow said. "My dad came to see me play, and we went out afterward and I was a little upset."

The next time Paul Dolbow showed up at Rutgers, he brought a gift that turned into a good-luck charm.

"My sister [Adrianne] was selling Pennsville T-shirts for the softball team, and my dad gave me one," Dolbow said. "He said, 'I want you to wear this under your uniform today. It will probably give you some luck.' That day, I broke my slump, and I've pretty much worn it every game since."

She could have used it the next winter during an off-season workout. While doing a routine running exercise at Rutgers' practice center, Dolbow caught her foot in the artificial turf. The result was a torn anterior cruciate ligament in the right knee, putting her out for the season.

The family suffered a double whammy that year, as Adrianne missed her senior season at Pennsville due to a broken leg.

"We're both on crutches, and my dad is freaking out because both his daughters can't play softball that season," Dolbow said with a laugh.

The sisters leaned on each other during that spring of 1998, and with the help of family members, friends and her boyfriend, Dolbow learned to cope for a year without one of the great loves of her life.

She returned last season but could not get in gear.

"I came back with a lot of confidence and raring to go," Dolbow said. "But I just felt uncomfortable. Things weren't the way they used to be. I couldn't run as fast, I wasn't as sure of myself. In the back of my head, I was a little scared and hesitant."

A lifelong centerfielder, Dolbow's switch to left did not help. The Rutgers coaches believed that, because of her diminished speed, she could not cover the necessary ground in center.

"I didn't totally agree with the decision," Dolbow said. "It was hard for me to adjust to the ball coming off the bat down the line. I'm very aggressive going after the ball, and now I had to comply with what the centerfielder wanted to do. I felt handcuffed.

"Dealing with the pain in my knee and dealing with being out of my position, it all started to affect me at the plate."

This season, Dolbow is back in center field. While she may not have the defensive range she had before her injury, her hitting has not suffered.

The only drawback has been a return of the injury bug. Dolbow was hindered by an injured shoulder early in the season, and sister Adrianne, who followed her to Rutgers, is redshirting her sophomore year with a back injury.

"It's really sad we've been so injury-prone," Dolbow said. "But I think with all we've gone through, it's made us a lot closer. She was there for me when I was hurt; now I'm there for her."

As her time in softball winds down, Dolbow already has a professional career looming. With a 3.27 grade point average, she has her pick of two job offers from Johnson & Johnson, located five minutes from Rutgers.

"I'm upset that softball at this level will be ending for me," Dolbow said. "But I'm going to be starting a job and a life beyond this. Softball has been an important part of my life, though, and I won't totally drop the sport or become inactive. There are a lot of women's leagues out there."

Enough to keep that lifeline up and running.

Rich Fisher's e-mail address is rfisher@phillynews.com

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