Talking Softball with Arizona Softball Hall of Famer Leah Braatz

GREENSBORO, NC - MARCH 11: NCAA softball during a game between Northern Illinois and UNC Greensboro at UNCG Softball Stadium on March 11, 2020 in Greensboro, North Carolina. (Photo by Andy Mead/ISI Photos/Getty Images)
GREENSBORO, NC - MARCH 11: NCAA softball during a game between Northern Illinois and UNC Greensboro at UNCG Softball Stadium on March 11, 2020 in Greensboro, North Carolina. (Photo by Andy Mead/ISI Photos/Getty Images) /

Arizona Softball has a deep and rich history, and former Wildcat Hall of Famer Leah Braatz embodies the spirit and enthusiasm of a Wildcat for Life.

I had the privilege and honor to sit down and chat with the Four-Time First Team All-American Catcher, Leah Braatz who played under former head coach Mike Candrea with Arizona Softball from 1994-98.

In our candid interview, we talked about Coach Candrea, the Women’s College World Series format, changes to the game since she played, her teammates, and more.

Arizona Wildcats
Arizona Wildcats /

Arizona Wildcats

Over the years, there have been numerous, talented players to come through Arizona, in fact, there are too many to list. However, Leah was one of many Superstars that played on those powerhouse UofA teams during the mid-to-late 90s.

Some of her teammates were Laura Espinoza, Amy Chellevold, Leah O’Brien-Amico, Julie Reitan, Lety Pineda, and National Players of the Year Jenny Dalton-Hill, Susie Parra, and Nancy Evans.

Leah Braatz Resume:

  • 3x WCWS Champion including back to back in ’96 and ’97.
  • 2x Diamond Sports/NFCA Catcher of the Year.
  • 4x First Team All American.
  • 85 HR All Time NCAA (Tied for 6th with teammate Laura Espinoza).
  • U of A Sports Hall of Fame Member.
  • 271 Games Played in a Wildcat Uniform.

Let’s get into the Q & A and discussion.

KB Can you speak on the bond that Arizona Wildcats Softball Players have forever regardless of the timeframe they played at U of A?

LB “The bond between us girls and the coaches is kind of unexplainable. No matter how much time goes by, whenever us girls get together, when teammates get together it’s an amazing bond like no time has passed, we still joke and laugh like we did way back when have fun like we did as players. Even from the girl’s past and even present now, still, a bond between us and them, when we get together for Alumni events. Coach (Candrea) has created that between all of us, Families Forever, that’s how I feel about all of that”.

KB What differences do you see now in the NCAA Softball game compared to when you played?

LB “There is a lot of differences, prior to getting to Arizona I was used to playing/hitting from 40 feet, it was more of a pitcher’s game. I played with the white ball before the yellow ball. I think when they got the yellow ball into it, it changed the game quite a bit. The bats are new, technology is being used to make bats now. It has become more of a hitters game, that’s for sure. Not to say we weren’t hitting the heck out of the ball back then but when I got to college they moved the pitchers back. Not to say the girls now don’t play with intensity, they do but I can confidently say that when I played my teammates and I played every pitch with intensity”.

KB How proud of you are of the 2021 Team?

LB “It was wonderful to see them at the WCWS. It is a huge accomplishment to even make it to OKC. All of the obstacles they had to overcome with Covid. I’m so proud of the team this year. With Covid, it had to have been a really tough year, I can just imagine. When the season was canceled in 2020 before conference play even started it must have been devastating. But, they really hung in there and proved themselves when they came back in 2021 and got back to the WCWS. I was overwhelmed and proud of the team like a mother would be to her kids”.

KB Can you share with me a Coach Candrea-ism, something he would do or say regularly a norm?

LB “When we would have batting practice, he would throw us batting practice particularly the days leading up to a game. You know we had some big bats back then. We would get in the box and if for example, if I hit 5 over the fence in a row, he would say, alright get out of there, if it’s not broke don’t fix it. Basically, your good, if you got a good feeling, get out of there. That was his motto, how he handled batting practice. There’s so many things but that sticks out to me”.

KB What are your thoughts on the WCWS Format and do you think scheduling can be adjusted for the better?

LB “I don’t know everything about that, some processes are different from my playing days as far as Regionals, Super Regionals, and how to get into the WCWS have some differences now. From what I’ve read, yes there are lots of things that need to be changed. I know that Coach Candrea has said some things about changes at the WCWS and I read Oklahoma’s coach (Patty Gasso) talking about changes. I know if those two people are saying it, something needs to be changed”.

KB What are your thoughts on the NCAA implementing use of Video Reply Review to overturn a call? The SEC and ACC have experimented with it.

LB “I don’t think of it as a bad thing. If a call is missed, which happens, sometimes umpires don’t see it, miss it. I think that it can be a very useful tool especially on big calls that can change the game. I do think the amount of time for reviews needs to be limited because Softball is exciting, fast-paced. It would have to be limited to not slow down the game too much, don’t have all the answers but yes I support it”.

KB Which teammates, peers, or other coaches besides Coach Candrea had an influence/impact on you?

LB “My freshman year coming in I had big shoes to fill. I came in and everybody was good, everybody was a star. For me, that was like whoa. I was humbled quite a bit. I knew I had to step up and prove myself. My freshman year I had Jody Miller-Pruitt, who was the catcher prior to me, amazing catcher, very good. Like I said, I had big shoes to fill. She was my coach, she took me under her wing my freshman year and taught me a lot. I give her so much credit for the player that I became. I thought I knew a lot but when I got to Arizona I figured out that I still had a lot to learn. Jody was a big influence on all of that. Of course, I had Laura Espinoza and Jenny Dalton-Hill, they were big hitters. Jenny was 3, Laura 4, and I was number 5 in the lineup. I looked up to them a lot and I wanted to be like them. All the older players had influence on me especially when I was a young kid coming in, they had huge influence on me. The older players, Seniors, and Juniors take us under their wing. My time at Arizona is some of the best times of my life, had some of the best years at Arizona”.

KB In closing, any final comments?

LB “I just want to share something that speaks words about Coach Candrea that is huge. I wanted to come to Arizona since I was 12. We went to Tucson for a travel ball tournament. We got to tour the school, I fell in love with the school. I fell in love with Coach Candrea and Coach Larry Ray then they started recruiting me. I knew I was destined to go there. The way I was recruited made me feel special. I had other trips that I was going to go on but I canceled those and committed early to Arizona. I knew I was going to be a Wildcat. I knew when coach (Candrea) came to my house for a recruiting visit, a small town in Idaho. His travel plans to get to my small town in Idaho were not easy. He came to have dinner with me and my family. He showed me the blue prints for the new stadium, showed me where I was going to be playing. He made me feel so special. He’s a great man. No other coach did that for me, not UCLA, nobody else. He was a father figure for us when we didn’t have our own dad’s there with us when we were in college”.

I want to say in closing that I had a wonderful time and experience interviewing and talking to Leah. She is very much down to earth even though she is one of the best ever to lace up a pair of cleats. As always, Bear Down Arizona and Go Cats!

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