Coaching a Softball Star to Glory

Get Joe Anderson talking about softball and you’re likely to get an ear full. After well over half a century in the sport, first as a 7-year-old witness to the World Softball Championships in his tiny Illinois hometown, then as a baseball player, through more than 40 years coaching softball, the long-time Crestonite has plenty of stories to tell. With more than 400 players brought up through his tutelage, he has memories to spare, and his passion for the sport and his players is clear.

“I’ve been a student of softball since I was a little kid,” Anderson said. “I played baseball in Taft when they didn’t have anything after Babe Ruth League. You had to go to Fresno to move up. And Cal Ripken (League) wasn’t even in existence. Cal Ripken wasn’t even in the big leagues yet.”

Get him talking about Bailey Doherty, the Atascadero High School senior pitcher who recently signed her letter of intent to join Cal Poly’s team, and the feels are close behind.

“Bailey can be as good as anybody that’s ever been around,” Anderson said. “This kid is one of the most natural, humblest kids I’ve ever met in my life. She stands out in her ability, how she listens, how she doesn’t let the adrenaline get to her. This kid here pulls it off better than anyone I’ve ever coached.”

The admiration is mutual.

The typically reserved 17-year-old Crestonite comes alive in talking about her long-time pitching coach.

“Joe has never let me quit on anything that didn’t satisfy my skills,” she said. “He’s always positive, always believed in me from when he first saw me slide.”

Their partnership began seven years ago when Doherty and her band of friends found their way to the ball field after school at Creston Elementary School. While Anderson waited for his travel team to show up, he let the girls play on the diamond. Then he taught them to slide.

“Joe made everything fun—he had this pod of eight 10-year-old girls he’d just let play around,” said Bailey’s mom, Charity Doherty, who worked as a lifeguard at the Creston pool nearly adjacent to the ball field. “I’d watched him and seen him with the kids for years. He always built them up. There was never a single time you thought he was being hard on them. He was building them in a way I’ve never seen another coach build a player.”

When she aged up, Bailey came onto Anderson’s travel team first as a catcher before moving to the mound at age 12. She played a year with SLO County Nitro, then two with Central Coast Athletics out of Monterey, one for Salinas Storm, and now plays for Cal A’s out of Hollister.

Through it all, she and her catchers have met with Joe at fields and practice mounds between games and off season to sharpen skills and build strength, all at no charge.

“Softball was never on our radar,” Charity said. “For sure, God brought Bailey and Joe together at the right time for Joe and the right time for Bailey.”

Cal Poly has always been Bailey’s first choice. Her mom and mom’s cousins went there. Plus, they have a rodeo team.

“We checked out Berkeley, UCLA, UC Davis, University of Nevada, but Cal Poly is close to home. I feel comfortable there as an individual,” Bailey said. “It hit me like home. The team is wonderful. It already feels like family.”

Bailey has also been on Cal Poly’s radar for years. Her recent stats sealed the deal. In her first three years at AHS, all three as varsity pitcher, she had 668 strikeouts in 428 innings pitched, a 1.26 ERA and a .402 batting average. She did it all while playing varsity basketball, riding rodeo, and maintaining her academics.

During her sophomore year, CalHi Sports named Bailey among that state’s standouts in both softball and rodeo. MaxPreps named her among its Underclass All-Americans. That year, she threw a no-hitter in the first round of CIF playoffs, proving she could perform under pressure. Her AHS team closed out that season with a CIF semi-final loss and 23-4 overall season record.

As a junior, Bailey was named to the First Team All-CIF 3rd Division Softball Team after giving up only 22 earned runs in 174 innings of work while collecting 276 strikeouts and hitting .390 with six home runs and 25 RBIs. That Greyhound season wrapped with a 20-2 win-loss record.

Bailey isn’t Anderson’s first college scholarship earner. He’s coached girls to Princeton, Dartmouth, Providence, University of New Mexico, Indiana, Canisius College, and University of San Diego. They’ve gone on to become doctors, nurses, accountants, coaches, parents and more.

But it was Bailey who kept Anderson in the game when he had about had it with the changing attitudes of helicopter parents. It was Bailey who brought back the humanity and humbleness and love for the game. It’s Bailey with whom he’s bringing up a new generation of players who catch for her now, and will take over the mound when she moves on.

“She’s a complete, 100 percent team player,” Anderson said. “There’s no animosity with any other kid on the team. She welcomes anyone with open arms and really helps bring up the younger players. She’s the most humble kid I’ve ever met in my life.” 

She’d like to take her college team to regionals, maybe to be selected for the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris.

“If the chance came around, for sure I would want to go, but I don’t know what God has in plan,” Bailey said. “I’ll just play it by ear.”

Getting through this together, Atascadero