Oklahoma State pitcher Sam Show is lighting up the Women’s College World Series
Calling it a bat flip is a gross understatement. When Oklahoma State’s Samantha Show hit her second home run of the day — the home run that wound up carrying the Cowgirls over the Florida Gators 2-1 in the opening round of the Women’s College World Series — she lifted the bat up over her head and slammed it down on the ground. (OSU fans have already made shirts immortalizing the moment.) Technically, the bat did flip, tumbling end over end towards the dugout as Show rounded the bases.
Was it a flip? A slam? A Gronk spike?
Show prefers “bat tomahawk.” “It’s funny, it’s something different,” she said on the phone, a few hours before her team took on top-seeded Oklahoma. “Personally, I’ve never seen a baseball player do anything like that.”
The East Bernard, Texas native is OSU’s marquee pitcher and hitter, with a 2.38 ERA, .333 average and 20 home runs after transferring into the program for her senior year. Show’s scrappy, no. 13-seeded squad wasn’t supposed to win at all in the super-regionals, much less defeat defending champs Florida State in Tallahassee. Their victory Thursday over Florida was program’s first World Series win since 1998, making the team textbook Cinderellas.
The textbook Cinderellas are still competing, hoping that their nothing-to-lose swagger will lead them to improbable triumph. Thursday’s game was hardly the first time Show has given a team bulletin board material. In fact, Show (conveniently, her last name rhymes with “wow”) has earned something of a reputation for putting a little extra juice on the bat when she knows she’s gone yard.
“It doesn’t happen every time,” she insists, explaining that she’ll only flip her bat if she knows instantly it’s out of the park — and if the run gives her team a tie or the lead. “Whenever the ball’s hit and I know it’s out, I have so many strong emotions inside me. If I could, I would just sit there and not know what to do. But obviously I have to run around the base pads, so my emotions come out in my bat.”
— Cut4 (@Cut4) March 11, 2019
Just as it would in baseball, her propensity to flip has become a point of contention in softball circles. Before the Oklahoma State-Florida game, for example, ESPN spliced footage of Show and Florida pitcher Kelly Barnhill talking about their approach to one of the sport’s most infamous “unwritten rules.”
“I don’t like bat flips,” Barnhill said in the clip. “I understand getting hyped and excited, but … act like you’ve been been there.” Naturally, they aired it again once the Florida pitcher and her team had taken the L — and one of the most memorable bat flips the sport has ever seen.
“It’s funny, because my first bat flip was actually off her last year,” says Show, who faced off with Barnhill during SEC play with Texas A&M. “I understand pitchers not liking it, but I’ve never shown up a pitcher when doing it. It’s always for the team — for the girls and for our fans. If a hitter were to do that to me, I gotta tip my hat to them. If they’re crushing balls like that off me, then I can’t be mad because I know I’m leaving pitches where they’re able to be hit that hard and that far.”
Show had never considered flipping her bat until last season when Texas A&M hired a new hitting coach, Keith Stein. Stein had played baseball for the Aggies, and Show says he encouraged players to show out more in the batter’s box.
“When we did hitting groups, he would tell us to stand in the box and watch our ball go — and if you wanted to, to just kind of bat flip afterwards,” says Show. “Honestly, I had never really seen it done in softball — and I’ve had some balls hit off me that are probably still going. I wound up being the only one who did it in a game. It just kind of became who I am.”
Flipping her bat is just one facet of Show’s larger-than-life persona on the diamond.
She favors thick smears of eye black that inevitably smudge over the course of the game. “It’s always just been fun to me — it’s like my softball makeup,” she says. “Softball and baseball are dirty sports. I don’t want it to look as good at the end of the game as it did at the beginning.” In high school, she painted a K on each cheek — one forward and one backward — and covered them with green glitter. “Because, ‘money,’” Show explains patiently.
The pitcher’s walk-up song is a remix of the theme from Saw because she wanted “something that would freak the other team out,” says Show. “Something that would catch them off guard, so they would say, ‘What are we getting ourselves into?’”
That’s the question that’s long followed Show, for reasons both good and bad. She’s tall — 6’ — strong and ruthlessly competitive, sometimes to the point of abrasiveness. The same things that make her no-holds-barred style of play so fun to watch, her fierce individuality and relentless fire, have long made it challenging for her to connect with her teammates and coaches.
“She’s kind of a polarizing person,” her coach Ken Gajewski said in a postgame press conference last weekend. “She walks to her own tune.” In the same press conference, her teammate Madi Sue Montgomery explained that they had had a players-only meeting at the beginning of the year without her. “We just let each other know that if we took what she was saying and not necessarily how she says it, it was for the best of the team,” said Montgomery.
“I know that I’m difficult,” says Show. “Growing up, when my teammates weren’t always as serious about softball as I was, I never really had a lot of friends on my team just because my main goal was winning. I wasn’t necessarily liked, but I would do anything to win.”
She was immersed in softball early; her dad was her first coach, and her two older half-siblings played softball and baseball. But even when she was just dabbling in a sport, from basketball to bowling, her father insisted that she push herself to be great. Show credits him for her drive.
“He wouldn’t let me mess around, he wanted me to be the best,” she says. “By the time I was in middle school P.E., I would be out there with the boys throwing the football around and getting upset because they wouldn’t catch the ball, or playing dodgeball and literally throwing the ball as hard as I could because I wanted to win that badly.”
Male friends provided some solace. “I would go to watch them play baseball and wish that I could be out there with them, because of how competitive they were,” says Show. She also loved watching MLB players, and still takes them as a model for how she approaches the game.
“I really admire the way that baseball players play with so much swag and confidence,” she says. “Some of them are cocky and arrogant, but if that’s how you’re going to be you definitely have to back it up with how you play. They’re being true to who they are and having fun playing the game.”
Somewhere along the way, she lost that swag — the swag that came from breaking into the starting lineup as a freshman in high school and earning countless all-state honors, the swag that had her painting green glitter Ks on her cheeks because she knew she was money. At Texas A&M, she never performed to her own incredibly high expectations. “Going into college it was just a whole different world, and I was trying to be someone who I wasn’t,” she says. “The competitiveness in me kind of went away.”
Show went to her mom, who told her, “I want you to go out and be 10-year-old Sam.” “When I was younger, I threw hard but I never knew where it was going,” says Show. “I was effectively wild. But I needed that — to just kind of let loose and throw the ball as hard as I can and not really care what happens. I wish I would have done it sooner.”
Then came the bat flips, the Saw theme and ultimately her transfer to Oklahoma State, where she says that she found a staff that would be real with her. “[Gajewski] has honestly been the only person who would say those kinds of things to my face, and I think that goes to show what kind of coach he is,” says Show. “He didn’t shy away from the challenge, if you will, of coaching me. I would hope that I’m not as difficult to work with now, but I don’t know,” she concludes, laughing.
Now, Show has taken on a leadership role by encouraging her teammates to — you guessed it — flip their bats.
“If there’s one thing I can really get across, it’s that you’re going to be the happiest when you’re playing as you and not trying to conform, or be a cutout of who coaches want you to be,” she says. “You have to have so much confidence in this game, and there are a couple girls on the team who I could tell right off the bat didn’t have that confidence. You have to go in there thinking you’re the best hitter — that you’re better than that pitcher in the circle. Hitting home runs is hard. You don’t necessarily have to flip your bat but if you hit a home run, admire it and be proud of what you just did. I think we should admire our hard work.”
Show knows that attitude puts some people off, that they might see it as showy or arrogant. She gets booed, and doesn’t care. “The first time, I honestly laughed,” says Show. “In my head, as weird as it sounds, I was like, alright, I’ve made it. Like, people are watching me and they don’t necessarily like what I’m doing, but they’re watching me.”
Thanks to her bat flip, there are certainly a few more eyes on the Women’s College World Series. “As crazy as it is, there are a lot of people on Twitter who are like, ‘Now I’m going to start watching softball,’” Show says. “It’s growing the sport — for good or bad, at least people know that the World Series is going on right now.”
Show’s bravado and swagger have put her on the map precisely because so far, she’s been able to back up her big talk and bigger flips. Fittingly, her Twitter location is “BIG BALLER ATTITUDE” — an allusion inspired by exactly what you would expect.
“I’m a huge supporter of the Ball family,” says Show. “Lavar Ball and his attitude — the Big Baller way, just knowing you’re the best. That’s kind of how I’ve taken this year, just knowing that if I’m facing a batter that I’m better than them and when I’m in the box, I’m better than that pitcher. Reminding myself to be the best that I can be, and reminding myself to attack every day with confidence that no one is going to beat me at what I do.”