When Jackie Baird hit her 12th home run of the year for the Lady Buccaneers softball team on March 30, she broke East Tennessee State University’s single-season home run record and tied the program’s career record. She went on to break that career record with her 13th home run on April 3, and it was that one swing of the bat which made her ETSU’s all-time home run leader with 26.
The senior exercise science major from Ooltewah, near Chattanooga, is a catcher for the Lady Bucs, and has also played third base. She began playing softball at the age of 6, and participated in multiple sports until she reached high school and decided to focus on softball year-round. At Chattanooga’s Girls Preparatory School, she led the Bruisers to four straight state championship titles.
Baird was recruited by different schools, and when she chose ETSU, she ended up playing for Head Coach Brad Irwin, who had worked to convince her to attend and play for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC) while he was an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator there. Baird says she and her fellow seniors have enjoyed helping Coach Irwin as he has strengthened ETSU’s program during their time here.
Breaking ETSU’s single season home run and all-time home run records this season was not even on Baird’s radar until the moments were practically upon her.
“I didn’t know I was close, or even that I had the ability to break those this year,” she said. “I didn’t know I was halfway close until I got to nine and had three more to break the season record. A Johnson City Press interview brought it to light for me.
“I’m almost still in denial that those were possible to break. Before this season, my high per year was only five, and I have matched my home run number from the previous three seasons already. I don’t think it has hit home yet that I’ve broken both. It’s surreal, really. I’m just trying to do everything I can to help the team win, and I’m not worried about how many home runs I hit, or what my batting average is, or anything like that. But it’s definitely something to be excited about.”
The sense of family among the members of her softball team, as well as the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics as a whole, has been one of the things Baird has enjoyed most during her time at ETSU.
“It was a big surprise to me how close we are as an athletic department, with all the teams constantly in the Dome together and seeing each other all the time,” she said. “It feels like a big family. That, and we have our little softball family. You couldn’t ask for a better group of people to be together and support each other all the time.”
Another thing she likes is the slight difference in weather between Johnson City and her hometown.
“I love being outside and having seasons,” Baird said. “We have seasons in Chattanooga, but we don’t get as much snow there as we do at ETSU. It’s funny, because I look forward to those days when I know we’re getting snow, and I think, ‘Please, let us be out of school today,’ just so I can go play in the snow!”
During both high school and college, Baird has spent her summers playing on travel teams, which have taken her from Florida to Colorado, from New York to Nevada, and even overseas, and the idea of coaching has appealed to her.
As she approaches graduation from ETSU on May 10, though, Baird sees the sport she loves taking a back seat in her life as she works to enter a career in nursing.
“Both softball and nursing are passions for me,” she said. “I’ve taken a lot of nursing prerequisite classes here at ETSU. I’ve volunteered, and I love science and love helping people. So I’ve decided on that path within the last six months.”
Don’t expect softball to completely disappear from her life, though. Baird says she can see herself coaching in the summer and perhaps giving lessons, “getting the knowledge of softball out there to people who really want to learn.”
Baird lives by and shares some advice her grandmother gave her: “Don’t let anybody tell you (that) you can’t get what you want. Dream big.”