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Osceola Sisters Try Out For Puerto Ricos National Fastpitch Team
By Frank Carroll
August 16, 2002
(PHOTO: ED SACKETT/ORLANDO SENTINEL)
KISSIMMEE -- Jennifer and Amy Encarnación, tourists when they arrived in Puerto Rico, left as prospects for the U.S. commonwealth's national fastpitch team.
"We had hoped to get away from softball and wound up practicing more down there," said Jennifer, 17, an Osceola High senior who last spring played first base on the school's junior varsity.
"I was pretty amazed," said Amy, 16, a 5-foot-7 senior who last spring was in the junior varsity Kowboys' outfield. "I couldn't believe they thought we were that good."
José Agosto had no such reservations.
The Puerto Rican National Team's manager recruited the siblings after an acquaintance of their uncle got them a tryout for a roster with ages ranging from 16 to 24.
Timing and the girls' heritage factored in Agosto's interest. All who represent the commonwealth must have a parent or grandparent born there.
On hiatus from Osceola's active summer softball program, the Encarnatións' intent was to take in sights, enjoy the warm Caribbean waters and hospitality of their grandparents' homeland during a month-long July vacation to Isla Verde, near San Juan.
Softball altered those plans.
"We were invited to practice, then invited back for more practices," Jennifer said.
"We did the best we could and that turned out to be good enough," said Amy, who was persuaded to work on catching skills.
During workouts, Jennifer was asked to pitch and the 5-8 right-hander caught Agosto's experienced eye with velocity, risers, change-ups and pinpoint control.
"She has potential," said Agosto, the national team's skipper for eight years and a coach for 20 years. "I told her to keep working in Florida and find a coach to help her with her mechanics."
Within days, they were invited to try out for the team and ultimately asked to travel to Canada with Puerto Rico's National Team in the International Softball Federation's Women's World Championships.
Jennifer and Amy declined, preferring to finish their vacation with their mother, Jenny Class, who was born in New York and raised in Puerto Rico.
Without the sisters, Puerto Rico was 4-3, good enough to advance from Pool B in the 16-nation event that ended Aug. 4. It was ousted a game later in a 5-2 loss to Chinese Taipei. Team USA beat Japan 1-0 in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, for the crown.
The sisters were born a continent apart -- Jennifer in New York, Amy in California -- and moved in 1993 to Kissimmee where they enrolled as third-graders.
Of experiences they have shared, this unexpected softball opportunity tops the chart.
Jennifer "was nervous, in shock," when she reported for a tryout. "I didn't know anybody, didn't think I belonged. But, after a few practices, I began to feel comfortable once I saw my skills were comparable to others.
"It was really big boost to our confidence, a good experience. It makes me warm inside to know that someone considers me good enough to represent a country, but I'm not going to let this go to my head."
Said Amy: "We don't take anything for granted. We're simply thankful to practice with girls who are very, very good."
The girls' high school coach, George Coffey, is thrilled for the sisters.
Puerto Rico's interest in the siblings "is a feather in our hat, a tribute to our program," Coffey said. "It's rewarding when our kids are noticed and snatched up for an opportunity like this.
"We told Jennifer last year that she has talent to be as good as anybody, but her biggest drawback is work ethic. She didn't get serious about working on her skills until this past summer.
"Now that somebody else has told her that she can be special, now that she has been given an opportunity to play at a higher level, the question is, 'What will she do with it?'"
The Encarnacións' dedication has improved, evidenced by their participation in the school's summer softball program. Both also have part-time jobs and Jennifer lines up this fall at middle hitter for the Kowboys' volleyball squad.
Agosto has plans to invite the sisters back to Puerto Rico in October to train for a couple of weeks before traveling to San Salvador in November for the 2002 Central American Caribbean Games.