By Joel Weckerly, Sports Editor
For her first collegiate season, freshman softball player Heather Cochran has put up some rather impressive numbers. The right-handed pitcher from Seattle, Wash., has picked up eight wins, nine losses, a 5.48 ERA and 37 strikeouts, as well as a .326 average at the plate. But it’s the number she’s put up with that’s been the highlight of this season: two brothers’ lives to worry about.
For the past nine months, Heather’s brothers Dan, 27, and Chris, 29, of the U.S. Navy, have been stationed in Iraq. For the past month, they’ve been at war, flying FA-18 fighter jet missions off their respective aircraft carriers, the U.S.S. Kitty Hawk and the U.S.S. Lincoln.
Those four weeks were hard for the 19-year-old Heather, who on March 20 should’ve been getting primed for the next day’s conference opener at Tarleton State. Instead, she couldn’t stop thinking about what the president had said that day: her brothers were going to fight for their country.
“Those first few days, when it just began,” Heather remembered, “that was so hard.”
Suddenly the routine pre-game national anthem had a little more meaning for Heather. Before an April 4 game at Eastern New Mexico, the announcer called for a moment of silence for the troops. For Heather, it was for Dan and Chris.
“It was hard for me to focus then,” she said. “I’m not thinking about what pitch I’m going to throw, I’m thinking about my brothers.”
Heather tried not to let these thoughts consume her, tried not to worry about her brothers, each of who has been married for less than two years. She kept in touch with them through e-mail, and if several days passed without word from them, she got scared.
It got worse a couple weeks ago when she was watching TV, and the headline flashed on the news channel: “FA-18 FROM U.S.S KITTY HAWK SHOT DOWN.”
“I went berserk,” she said. “I couldn’t get ahold of my parents…I was afraid it was Dan.”
But it wasn’t. It was Dan’s friend and bunkmate, Nate White, an Abilene native whose parents attend church with Heather. “President White and Sister Warren,” as Heather calls them, rode an emotional rollercoaster while their son was missing in action. Back in Iraq, Dan was having a hard time concentrating on his missions with the thought of an empty bunk above him.
Nate’s body was found two Saturdays ago. The Cooper High School graduate left behind a wife and three kids.
That incident hit almost too close to home for Heather, who found comfort in the Mormon belief that she and her family will live together for eternity.
“I didn’t stop praying for them,” she said. “Families at church would tell me they were praying, and that was comforting. I knew the Lord would have a plan.”
He did. Last week, Chris and his crew on the Lincoln were relieved in the Persian Gulf by the U.S.S. Nimitz, while the Kitty Hawk, too, was scheduled for immediate return to the States.
“It’s a total sense of relief,” says Heather.
Chris and his wife, Maggie, reunite a week from Saturday, when the Kitty Hawk ports in California. They plan on visiting Heather in Seattle this summer.
Dan, his wife, Kelly, and his bunkmate’s family, are currently in Arlingon, Va., for the funeral of Nate White. Dan’s stationed in Japan, so Heather isn’t sure when she’ll see him next. But that’s O.K.-her brothers are safe.
“It’s been hard,” she says now, “but it helped me realize that everything is in the Lord’s hands.”
Heather and the Wildcats probably won’t make the playoffs this year, but I’d put my money on them next season.
Rumor has it they’ve got a pitcher coming back who’s great at getting out of big jams.