After Unexpected Return, Chambers Is Now the Leader

Versatile athlete gave up softball after 7th grade but chance meeting with coach as a sophomore leads her back to game; underclassmen-heavy BHS benefits from senior's experience, leadership.

Merry Grace Chambers expected to hand out candy when her doorbell rang on a Halloween night a few years ago.

But the trick-or-treater at the door didn’t want M&M’s. Brian Firenze, Chambers’ former youth softball coach, who’d just recently taken over Burlingame High’s frosh-soph team, was out trick-or-treating with his daughter when the chance meeting turned into a recruiting visit.

Chambers, a versatile athlete who’d given up the sport after seventh grade, was a sophomore at the time, and she was planning to go out for lacrosse.

Firenze pressed, asking his former player: “Why don’t you come back?” Chambers eventually capitulated.

“It was so funny,” Chambers recalled. “I couldn’t say no!”

The Panthers are glad she never bought lacrosse gear.

Chambers has helped keep Burlingame competitive in the Peninsula Athletic League Bay Division in the early going at 2-2.

The underclassmen-heavy Panthers, who took a 3-9 record into the weekend, have experienced some growing pains. But they’ve also held their own against some tough opponents, including close losses to a pair of solid South Bay teams in Leland (5-4 in their season opener) and St. Francis (4-3 on March 7), and Firenze believes the Panthers are on the right track after a 3-1 PAL Bay victory over Aragon on March 31.

Chambers has played big role in keeping the Panthers in the hunt for a spot in the Central Coast Section playoffs.

Her productive bat and solid glove at first base have been big assets. And as the team’s only senior, her leadership has been even more valuable, Firenze said.

“The girls look up to her,” Firenze said. “She leads in a quiet way. She’s not too vocal, she leads in the way she carries herself, the way she acts and how she is on the field.

“She leads by actions, not words.”

Chambers had never assumed a leadership role in softball, but said she leaned on her experience coaching some youth basketball and giving tennis lessons in summer camp.

“It’s a little bit different because I’ve always played up, but being a leader is fun,” she said. “It makes you want to be a better person and be more positive and upbeat because you know the other players are always watching you.”

Chambers said she’s modeled her game after former Giants All-Star first baseman J.T. Snow, whom she grew up idolizing when her father took her on annual trips to spring training.

“I always wanted to be just like him,” Chambers said. “I even wore my socks high like he did.”

Chambers’ contribution is no surprise to Firenze, who said Chambers was the catalyst on some overachieving youth teams he coached.

Chambers helped lead the Burlingame Flames’ 10-and-under team to the Western Nationals in 2003 and the 12-and-under team to a state championship in San Diego two years later.

Firenze said Chambers’ passion for the game and whatever-it-takes approach rubs off on teammates.

“She loves the game and she’ll do anything, play any position you need her to,” Firenze said. “If you told her to run through a brick wall, she would. She’s just that type of kid.

“She loves softball and she loves to compete. She’s just an all-around great athlete.”

But Chambers admits her love for softball waned after playing year-round for several years, and she hung up her spikes for what she assumed was the last time after seventh grade. She kept busy though, playing youth basketball, soccer, volleyball and flag football (in eighth grade), and she was on the Burlingame tennis team.

“I like the camaraderie that a team sport brings,” she said. “It’s just a great feeling, and when I got back into it I realized how much I’d loved it and how much I’d missed it.” 

“Towards the end (of seventh grade) I was like, ‘I don’t want to this any more,’” she said. “Now I think I want to play the rest of my life.”

But Chambers probably won’t play organized softball after this year. She’s already planning to attend Oklahoma (her parents’ alma mater), and would like to play intramurals, but wants to focus on academics. She said the rigors of long practices and travel would be too much.

But what if Firenze shows up as an assistant at Oklahoma next year?

“Well, I guess I’d have to give it a second thought,” Chambers said.


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