San Antonio – It was Kelly Baker’s sophomore year when the former St. Mary’s University softball standout jotted down some goals on a note card at the request of coach Donna Fields.
Among the thoughts she scribbled? To “make a mark” at St. Mary’s.
“I wanted people to remember who I was when I left,” she said. “I wanted them not only to remember the athlete I was, but also the person I was.”
Check and check.
Baker has been named the Heartland Conference Woman of the Year, the league announced this week. The prestigious honor is awarded annually to a student-athlete who distinguishes herself throughout her collegiate career in the areas of academic achievement, athletics excellence, community service and leadership.
She beat out four other candidates for the award, as voted on by the Heartland Conference’s senior woman administrators. Baker, a native of Arlington, Texas, will now serve as the conference’s nominee for the NCAA’s National Woman of the Year award.
“Winning this award really makes me feel like I accomplished that goal to make my mark,” said Baker, a catcher who graduated in May with a degree in exercise and sport science.
Baker had done more than enough to make such an impression through her play on the field, becoming a four-time All-Heartland Conference selection and helping lead St. Mary’s to the NCAA Division II South Central Region Softball Tournament as a senior in 2011.
She also graduated as the program’s record holder for career walks (100) and career putouts (1,041), and ranks fifth in games started (239).
But Baker never wanted to be identified only as an athlete, and her work in the classroom and in the community spoke to that ambition.
She maintained a 3.82 grade-point average as an undergraduate, paving the way for her to become a four-time member of the Heartland Conference Presidents’ Honor Roll. She was also picked three times for the CoSIDA/ESPN the Magazine Academic All-District team.
Perhaps closest to her heart, however, was the work she did in the community. Baker was active in numerous community service activities, including working with Habitat for Humanity, working as a CCD teacher at St. Vincent DePaul Catholic Church and assisting the Continuing the Heritage project.
It was through Continuing the Heritage that Baker was introduced to a group of school bus drivers whose communal garden needed some work.
“My junior year, we went and cleaned up their garden,” recalled Baker, who plans to pursue a career as a physical therapist. “Before we got there, it needed help. You couldn’t even tell it was a garden. It just looked like land with overgrown brush.
“We went back our senior year to that same place, and you could see the work we did. They had even added to the stuff we grew. It was nice to see that garden flourish, knowing that we made a difference.”
And that she had left her mark.