After spending a majority of her life involved with the sport of softball, Slippery Rock graduate Caitlin Baxter has reached another milestone in the sport she holds so close to her heart.
Only two years removed from playing her final game for Slippery Rock University, Baxter has been named the Butler High School head softball coach heading into the 2019 season. The hire makes perfect sense for both parties, as Butler hands the reigns over to a young, determined Baxter who recently finished her master’s degree in secondary education and is already employed at Butler Intermediate school as a long-term substitute teacher.
Now sitting at the helm of the school’s softball program, Baxter is more than willing to impact her high school alma mater in any way possible.
“I wanted to always stay involved with the sport of softball and since I already teach at Butler and was an assistant coach on the softball team, applying for the head coach position was a no-brainer to me,” Baxter said.
To be an athlete for a program and take the coaching reigns only a handful of years later surely is a surreal feeling. Not only was Baxter appreciative of the opportunity presented to her by Butler, but she was also thankful for her time as a player and the experiences she had with the Golden Tornadoes and The Rock alike.
“I just felt honored to be part of both programs. I always wanted to stay close to home so going to Slippery Rock and playing softball there always made sense to me and it turned out to be a fantastic choice,” Baxter said. “I just owe a lot to Butler and Slippery Rock for getting me to where I’m at today.”
Both Butler and Slippery Rock may reciprocate those feelings, as Baxter was an exceptional softball player throughout her career. In her four years at Butler, she was a standout shortstop and continued her success in a Green and White uniform as well.
In her career at Slippery Rock University, Baxter earned two all-conference honors and was a nightmare for opposing pitchers during her senior season in which she filled up the stat sheet.
In 41 starts during her final season at The Rock, she hit for a .348 average with 19 runs scored, four home runs, 23 RBI, six stolen bases and a .514 slugging percentage. Baxter’s job as head coach will not be a walk in the park, as Butler’s softball team has not enjoyed a winning season in nearly a decade; the last time being in 2010, Baxter’s freshman season at Butler in which the Golden Tornadoes finished with a 9-8 record.
However, Baxter believes that her recent experience as a college athlete could serve as a positive difference, as she hopes to be hands-on as a coach, as her mechanics and feel for the game is as fresh as can be.
“I feel like since I played at the collegiate level, there is a certain level of respect that the players have for the way I see and coach the game. And since I’m still pretty young, I’m not afraid to put on the cleats and show the players how to dive into a base, or how to swing the bat effectively,” Baxter said. “I feel like showing them how it’s done is much more effective than just talking about it.”
Even though Baxter seems to be set with a coaching philosophy of her own, she admits to taking a page out of her old mentor’s book, SRU softball head coach Stacey Rice.
“Coach Rice was always a great leader and had a way of bringing the team together. She’s always in the back of my mind when I’m coaching,” Baxter said. “Sometimes I would even find myself asking ‘What would Coach Rice do’?”
If one thing is certain, it is that the two have a strong mutual respect for each other. When asked about her impressions on her former player-turned-coach, Coach Rice admired Baxter’s talent and leadership on the field.
“Cait was always, hands down, one of the best team players you could ask for, I always said I wanted 12 of Cait on the field,” Rice said.
“Nothing phases her, she never complained and she always worked hard. Cait was truly the quintessential team player that every coach would want on their team.”
The praise did not stop there either, as Coach Rice went on to state other reasons why she believes that her former protégé will be a successful head coach.
“I feel like her educational background will help her out a lot actually,” Rice said. “She’s not one of those coaches that will continuously lecture her players, she’d rather show them. She’s very meticulous, she’s very intentional and she always has a greater plan. Cait is very aware of how people learn and that you may need to adapt to each player, a lot of her educational background just really rolls into coaching.”
Baxter’s second game is a head coach only a few days away. Her qualities and skills as a head coach will be put to the test as they travel to face the Pine Richland Rams.
It could even be expected for Baxter and her former coach to be in contact as the Golden Tornadoes’ season progresses and Coach Rice is looking forward to the chance to guide Baxter once again.
“I’m definitely looking forward to having those talks with Cait again, and I think once she’s in the midst of the season and is perplexed or challenged by something and I’m looking forward to mentoring her in this chapter of her life,” said Rice.
As Baxter returns to softball, she also returns home to Butler, with the same extraordinary potential; this time as a head coach. same extraordinary potential; this time, as a head coach.