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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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The Battalion May 4, 2024

From surf to turf: A softball story

Grace+Uribe
Graphic courtesy of Pranay Dhoopar
Grace Uribe

Thirty-five miles south of Los Angeles, 90 miles north of San Diego and bordered by the Pacific Ocean to the west, a young girl from Orange County found herself with a competitive spirit looking for a way to thrive. Earning the nickname “Surf City,” sun, surf, sand and subtle sophistication is what Huntington Beach, California, is all about.
Texas A&M junior pitcher and outfielder Grace Uribe enjoys surfing along the eight-and-a-half miles of scenic shoreline back home in the “Golden” state. But the athlete inside took her on a journey much further than the beach.
Uribe was a dancer and gymnast in her early childhood, but the soon realized her feisty nature was not the best fit for this particular area of girls’ activities.
“That’s why I didn’t belong in dance,” Uribe said. “My mom growing up called me the beast. I got kicked out of dance for my attitude or whatever, but we toned it down,” Uribe added with a laugh.
At 7 years old, Uribe attended local softball tryouts and went out on a limb with pitching after some encouragement from her grandmother. She was a natural pitcher from the start and competed in youth softball with an entertaining rivalry between the north and south side leagues of Huntington Beach.
The young prodigy hit a significant milestone in her softball experience at 11 years old. Now under the wings of her travel softball coach and previous NFL wide receiver, Uribe was able to fine-tune her competitive energy to develop as an athlete.
“He’s to the max,” Uribe said.“He’s super competitive. He’s always had the, ‘I’m gonna beat you. And if I’m pitching to you and you hit off me, that’s fine. You just got lucky. That’s not gonna happen again.’ That’s the kind of coaching that I grew up with, and it was exactly what I needed. That’s exactly how I like to play.”
Touraj “TJ” Houshmandzadeh Jr. is a former wide receiver and was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in the 2001 NFL Draft. TJ played college football at Oregon State. His rigid coaching style meshed well with Uribe’s competitiveness and created a power duo during her travel ball years.
“He knew how to tame Grace a little bit,” Uribe’s stepfather Jake Smeltzer said. “She gets feisty out there. He kind of let her do her thing.”
Jake came into her life around this point in her softball journey and instantly admired Uribe for her performance and passion on the field.
“She was in the thick of it,” Jake said. “She was a highly sought-after player for the travel teams. But man, I just loved her passion for it. I loved her fire on the field. So anything I could do to be a part of it or be at her games and be there to support her, I was there. I was kind of, you know, becoming a part of her life. I was dancing that fine line of not trying to insert myself too much, but one of my favorite things was watching her play.”
Sara Smeltzer identified her daughter’s natural ability from the start and saw the potential for a serious future in the sport early on.
“From the very beginning, I just felt like she was a natural,” Sara said. “She re- ally enjoyed it. It was something she did always. She couldn’t wait to get to practice. She couldn’t wait for more of it. I just thought this is probably something she’s gonna do for a while. Because she has such a passion for it.”
The pressure continued to increase for Uribe as her softball career pushed forward.
“I played high school softball at Huntington Beach High School,” Uribe said. “In my area, we were really good. I re- member my junior year, we had basically a starting lineup all the way down that was going to a power five school.”
Uribe explained she was a “late bloomer” and didn’t grow into her strength until her junior year of high school. This presented some challenges for her at the plate, but she quickly adapted to the left side of the batter’s box.
“I wasn’t as strong when I was younger,” Uribe said. “I was a little thing. My coaches said, ‘Why don’t we move you over to the left side, and you start slapping?’ I was fast back then. So I did. I slapped, and I was good at that. I found ways around it until I got bigger and stronger.”
Uribe committed to the University of Missouri during her sophomore year of high school at a recruitment camp. She said recruitment was a stressful time, and the pressure of a college decision faced her at an early age. The National Collegiate Scouting Association installed the rule that softball athletes could not take official college visits until Sept. 1 of their junior year of high school, and the rule wasn’t in place until her junior year in 2019.
“When I committed to Missouri, I was definitely developing still,” Uribe said. “I remember it being really tough for me recruiting wise because there were girls that bloomed earlier than I did and committing to schools that I wanted to go to. There were already 10 of them committed in eighth grade. I think it’s a great rule now because it gives the girls time to really enjoy it and see if they even want to play.”
During stressful times and day-to-day life, Uribe explained she leans on her mother and maintains a strong relationship with her.
“She’s absolutely my world,” Uribe said. “We have a bond, and, although I’m missing her every day, I think we’ll never lose that. I call her every day, and I tell her about everything. I don’t even have to tell her when something’s going good or wrong. I suppose she’s like psychic or something. She knows everything, and she’s absolutely everything to me. And my stepdad is amazing. I miss them a lot, but they’re the most supportive people, and they’re really my whole world.”
After Uribe withdrew her commitment from Missouri, she began to reconsidering her college softball opportunities. She knew that she still wanted to go out of state and play in the Southeastern Conference.
The booming sounds of the cannon at the end zone, the exclamations of the “beat the hell” chant and the sight of over 100,000 people piling into Kyle Field were enough to show Uribe the opportunity she had to be a part of something special at A&M.
“I’m from California,” Uribe said. “I’m not used to all these Texas schools. I barely even knew about A&M.When I came on my visit, I hadn’t even been to a big foot- ball game before.”
One trip to College Station was all the prospect needed to decide to wear the maroon and white. Her weekend trip was one to remember with her future teammates after getting to stand on the side- lines of the football stadium at the 2019 Auburn game.
“I had plans to go on other visits after A&M, but I didn’t go on any of them. I committed that day,” Uribe said.
From her parents’ perspective, they knew Uribe had made the right decision to continue her softball career at A&M.
“When we did our visit to A&M, in my mind, I was like, this is the place for her,” Jake said. “But she had to make that deci- sion on her own. It only took her about 10 minutes after the meeting with the coach. She was like, ‘I want to go here.’ We were like, ‘Good, we want you to go here.’”
Uribe’s third season with A&M softball is already underway, with new head coach Trisha Ford at the helm of the program. Ford has added gasoline to Uribe’s fire and holds her athletes to a highly competitive standard. Competitive as always, Uribe is heading into her junior season with her spirits high, ready to play.
“It’s easy to be competitive,” Uribe said. “It’s easy to have that chip on your shoulder when you know you have girls and coaches on your side that are going to allow you to do that, and they’re going to do it right back for you. I’m really looking forward to what we’re going to do this year. I’m so excited with our girls and how competitive we are. I’m excited to put that competitiveness to use and see where we go with it. Yes, we’re a new team. But that competitiveness, that grit goes a long way. You can’t beat a team that doesn’t want to be beat. Like it’s not an option, you know?”

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