With temps in the 70s and a sky devoid of clouds, most members of the Wisconsin women's softball team were practicing in shorts and T-shirts last Thursday. But sophomore center fielder Jennifer Krueger was sporting a pair of baggy sweatpants with a healthy layer of infield dirt.
Krueger, the team's fastest player, is expected to run the bases aggressively, which means hitting the dirt early and often. That's just part of being a "slapper," as Krueger is referred to in the team's media guide.
"It basically means I'm trying to hit grounders between shortstop and third base and then use my speed to get on base," Krueger says.
It also means learning to hit left-handed, which Krueger had never done prior to her freshman season. She struggled with the transition in 2008, hitting just .156 with a .224 on-base percentage, not great numbers for a leadoff hitter. But this year, after an off-season spent taking a lot of swings in the batting cage, Krueger leads the 2009 Badgers 44 games into the season with a .317 batting average and .387 OBP.
On every pitch, Krueger takes a few steps toward the pitcher and tries to lay down a drag bunt or "slap" the ball through a hole in the infield. With just 60 feet between bases in fast-pitch softball (as opposed to 90 feet in baseball), all Krueger needs is for the shortstop to bobble the ball to beat out the throw.
Krueger and the Badgers host Michigan on Saturday, 2 p.m., and Northern Illinois next Wednesday, 5 p.m., at the Goodman Diamond.