By Phillip Pongratz, Student Assistant
March 31, 2010 will be remembered for a long time in Chattanooga softball history. In game two of a doubleheader at Georgia State, senior Tiffany Baker drove the fourth pitch she saw in the top of the second over the left field fence. The home run put her name on top of the Chattanooga career home run list.
The record is an impressive accomplishment when considering how many players have come through the highly successful softball program that has won 13 regular season conference championships in 18 seasons of existence.
"The career home run record was a goal that I was trying to break, and it actually happened," said Baker.
Going into the Southern Conference Tournament, she has 47 career home runs which also puts her atop the SoCon all-time home run list.
"She is so determined and a super hard worker," said fellow classmate Lauren Flores. "She knows there is not a pitcher out there that is better than her."
One of this season's most memorable home runs by the East Ridge, Tenn. native came against then No. 1 ranked Georgia. Even though the team lost, the round tripper still had a big impact on Baker.
"Going around the bases, the look on some of the player's faces seemed like they got beat in a way," she said. "I don't think they expected it."
Along with the career home run record, Baker has also been climbing other career lists and currently ranks third in runs batted in, tied for sixth in doubles, ninth in runs scored and assists and tenth in hits.
The Southern Conference has awarded her success on the field by naming her to the 2009 and 2010 All-Conference first teams at second base and third base, respectively. In 2008 after her performance in the conference tournament, she was selected to the All-Tournament team. Baker has also been acknowledge as a two-time player of the week and two-time player of the month in her career.
Outside of the conference awards, in 2009 and 2010 she was selected to the first team and second team of NFCA All-South Region, respectively. This year, she was named to the first team of the Capital One Academic All-District Team in district four and is now a candidate for the Academic All-America award.
Off the field, Baker has also been chosen to the SoCon All-Academic Team in her sophomore, junior and senior years. She has also made the fall and spring Dean's List the past three years and has the team's highest GPA with a 3.7.
Baker completed her degree in physical education this spring graduating with the distinction of Magna Cum Laude and is planning on entering the coaching field.
In the fall, Baker will attend East Tennessee State University where she will be working towards her Master's degree in Kinesiology with an emphasis on sports and performance. At the same time, she will be a graduate assistant with the softball team that is led by former Chattanooga assistant coach Brad Irwin, who coached Baker during her first three seasons with the Lady Mocs and worked in the Chattanooga community when she was in high school.
One thing that Baker learned from her playing career that will help her in the coaching field is how to work with all of the different personalities that she has encountered.
"You learn something from every individual, even if it is just how to coach them differently," she said.
In the classroom, she credits her success to her parents, Lisa and the late Phil.
"Academics were huge in my family. I got grounded and wouldn't be allowed to play if I got below a C," stated Baker. "You can always get an athletic scholarship, but ultimately your academics are going to take you where you need to be."
The success on the field for Baker can also be traced back to her parents.
"My dad was a strong worker and taught me that work is the only way to get it done to succeed in life," she said.
Baker has also faced hard times in her personal life when her father passed away from cancer during the 2006-07 school year, while she was redshirting at the University of Tennessee. She transferred in the summer of 2007 to Chattanooga to be with her family during this time of need.
In high school, Baker also played volleyball where she helped guide the team to the Tennessee AA State Championship in her senior year. While her coach might have taught that winning is not everything, to Baker winning is.
"If you want to succeed in anything you do, you are going to set goals and accomplish them," she said. "If you aren't winning, you are going to have a hard time accomplishing your goals."
A major turning point in Baker's career came at the 2009 Tuscaloosa Regional against Texas. In the bottom of the third inning, she collided with former Lady Moc Kaiti Kelley on a popup to right field and reinjured her right ankle that she fractured at the 2008 Tuscaloosa Regional.
"It was one of those things where I had to swallow my gut and say once in my life I couldn't do it," stated Baker. "Overcoming injuries was probably a turning point in my life. If I can make it, I am going to go at 110%."
She has continued to overcome adversity this season as well.
"I just take it, with this whole season, that any pitch could be my last," said Baker. "The game could end at any point and I would never know."
After her sophomore year, Baker switched from playing second base to third base in the field after the graduation of former Lady Moc Toni Hutchison. The move was also made to put less stress on her ankle to extend her playing career.
"It was kind of a tough transition because I had never played there before," said Baker. "Once I got use to the roll off the bat, the cuts and all the simple stuff that a third baseman would know, it became pretty easy."
The biggest difference between second base and third base was how much quicker the ball travels.
"It definitely comes out faster, but it is always a good thing," Baker said. "The slow rollers can always take some funny hops, but when they are shot at you. You either have it or you don't and there is not much of an in between."
With all the success she has had in her career at Chattanooga, some questions remain. How many more home runs would she have hit if she did not get hurt? How far could have the 2008 and 2009 teams have gone in the postseason?
With all the adversity that Baker has faced during her collegiate career, she has cemented herself as one of the best players in the 18-year history of Chattanooga Softball. Baker will end her stellar career near the top of many batting categories and could have another shot at an NCAA Regional this season.