Growing up a softball and baseball player in Fairbanks, AK can be quite the challenge. With nearly year-round cold temperatures and a lack of opportunities to play, it could be easy to overlook the two sports from an early age. Softball Factory alum Nadia Chernich, however, refuses to let any limitations interfere with partaking in the sports that mean the world to her.
“You only get two months to play the sport you love outside,” Chernich reveals. “Also, our entire state has only two travel softball teams and seven baseball teams. Just to play a weekend tournament requires driving eight hours.”
Eight hours is not the farthest the 2024 Monroe Catholic High School grad has travelled for softball and baseball. The Chernich family realized if the two sports were not going to come to Nadia, Nadia was going to have to go to them.
“I have been leaving to attend camps and events and tournaments around the country whenever I can during the fall, winter and spring,” Chernich answers when asked how she is able to keep playing softball and baseball throughout the year, even when it is freezing back home. “Of course, I continue to practice at indoor gyms during the winter to build arm strength and more power.”
Big city traffic, TSA lines and constantly changing time zones are not always fun for the catcher, but the traveling is something she truly enjoys.
“I love meeting all the different people from other states and seeing how they react to seeing a girl from Alaska play,” she says. “I always bring souvenirs from home to share and end up being called simply ‘Alaska’ by the end of the tournament.”
Softball Factory events are something “Alaska” is willing to travel for, and a tool she believes gives her opportunities to play one of the several sports she loves year-round.
“They have helped me develop my skillset and to perform at a higher level,” Chernich, who has attended multiple Softball Factory events, explains. “I attended a weeklong Softball Factory camp in Florida in late December when it was -30 degrees Fahrenheit at home. I was sweating in the sun and having a great time diving in the outfield grass that would be totally impossible at home. I love the coaches at Softball Factory so much – the southern hospitality makes me laugh and I know that they really care about us getting better.”
The coaches and people involved are what the 2019 Softball Factory All-America Pre-Season Rookie says are what she likes most about Softball Factory.
“The coaches are so good!” Chernich exclaims. “The Southern accent brings a smile to my face and they are so genuine, but still direct and honest. I always learn new things and it is the best way for me to track what I need to do to improve. I really am grateful for the different events offered and look forward to another invitation. I love all the coaches, but special shout-outs to Ryan Iamurri, AJ Hamilton, Andi Williamson, Nicki Trumpler and Coach Dave Majeski for really helping.”
Chernich, whose most recent Softball Factory event was the 2019 Softball Factory College World Series Futures Select Training, does not just excel at softball, but also crushes it at baseball and basketball as well.
The multi-sport athlete knows how to grind.
“It is quite hard,” she admits when asked how difficult it can be to balance everything at once. “But I plan it all out to make sure I get enough hours of practice each day. I put in a lot of energy and am known for my quickness, so you could say I just keep running. (Just) Today, I took 500 basketball shots in the morning and then 500 more after lunch. I have a softball game at 6pm and then a baseball game at 8pm followed by some more practice. My parents also are my chauffeurs and I owe a lot to them because my younger three siblings also have their activities.”
Although she loves all three, Chernich does have a favorite sport.
“I like girls’ baseball the best,” she reveals. “Baseball is a perfect sport and playing with all girls gives me that extra layer of comfort.”
She can also play with the boys.
“I always have something to prove,” she says.
Chernich is the only girl on her baseball team and knows that not only can she keep up, but she can be a key player.
“There is the feeling that I can’t just be ‘good’,” she shares. “I have to be ‘excellent’. I have been chosen for the travel team the past two years and play an important role on the team. I sometimes feel sad that those who are ‘just average’ get stigmatized so negatively. There is a big double-standard.”
Her efforts behind and at the plate for her baseball team have not gone unnoticed. Chernich recently took part in Major League Baseball’s Trailblazer Series for the second year in a row.
The MLB Trailblazer Series is a baseball tournament for girls that is part of MLB’s commitment to draw more young people to the sport, no matter their gender, race or where they come from.
“Playing at Trailblazers has been a wonderful opportunity to see many talented girls from across USA, Canada, and Puerto Rico,” she gushes. “I love how much support MLB has given us and it was also fun to meet my softball hero Jennie Finch there too. It is a great experience to meet USA National Team players, MLB executives, umpires, and just to play the game.”
“It is inspiring to talk to girls my age who are doing the same thing in their community,” Chernich continues. “There is a friend I have from Brooklyn, New York who I have played with multiple times in Illinois, at the Little League World Series complex in Williamsport, Penn., again in New York, and now in California. How cool is that? It was a great honor to be on the field and have my name announced during pregame of the Los Angeles Dodgers game.”
The talented Trailblazer sees her future in MLB as well. While she has not decided which sport to pursue at the collegiate level just yet, she does know her goal is to become the first female umpire in MLB.
“I was researching baseball for a school project a couple of years ago and was amazed to learn that there had been no MLB female umpires,” the aspiring umpire says. “As a catcher, I get a good look of balls and strikes and really like justice. My Mom always thought I would make a good lawyer. My Dad is a basketball and baseball official.”
Chernich is already making the connections with important people in the industry and taking the right steps and initiative she will need to make her dreams come true.
“I have met Perry Barber who is a top-rated female baseball umpire,” she notes. “I also spent an hour on the phone interviewing Rich Rieker, who is the Director of Umpire Development for MLB. He was very encouraging and even sent me a box of official gear and a rulebook.”
“Trailblazer” is truly the perfect word to describe the Alaskan athlete.