Reganne Camp is Seton Hall softball’s ace. She is an alpha, an inspiration, the one the Pirates turn to when they need to shut out the opposition. But as isolated as Camp may seem on the rubber mound, she is never alone – for there is an angel on her shoulder.
Camp recalls the day, March 6, 2018, when something was taken from her that she can never tangibly recover; a life, a teammate, a friend, a piece of her childhood.
The night was pleasant up until the phone call. She was sitting at a tiki bar in Clearwater, Fla., while two of her dearest teammates, Hailey Arteaga and Janae Barracato, laid on a hammock beside her.
Camp immediately knew something was wrong when Ellie Sonetz, her best friend from her hometown of Bloomington, Ill., called. Ellie never called.
It was about Ellie’s sister, Olivia, better known as Livi. Livi, then a high school senior, was in critical condition after a car accident on the way home from – of all things – softball practice. Livi passed away later that week.
Camp had played softball with Ellie and Livi at Normal Community West High. Theirs was a plucky rural school that dared to dream of state championships that consisted of toppling dynasties in faraway Chicago.
“My freshman year, we made it to the Elite Eight. No one’s ever made it to the State Championship [from Bloomington] and I told my Coach, ‘I promise I’ll get you there,’” Camp said.
“Sophomore, junior year we did really bad, I was like, ‘Wow, this is a lot harder than you’d think.’ Then, senior year, we finally make it, we’re the first softball team to ever do it.”
Livi was Bloomington’s soul, their X-factor, playing the infield with an infectious fearlessness. During the state championship, a challenging ground ball hopped off the dirt and hit her in the jaw.
Her mouth was bloodied and she almost lost her two front teeth, but she refused to come out of the game. Livi later stepped to the plate and earned a walk. She then noticed no one was on second and took off – cloth around her teeth – and dove headfirst safely into second.
“She was the craziest human being you will ever meet,” Camp said. “She was that stereotypical wild spirit, but so fun and caring. And, the instincts that she had on the field, you can’t teach that. Those are things you look for in players, you can’t teach players to be like that.”
Camp remembers having her worst fears realized in that phone call from Ellie. Something was taken from her with those words; a piece of home. Arteaga remembers the sequence of events vividly. The Pirates had traveled to Florida to play 11 games in 11 days during spring break.
This was a night off; the mood was light as her and Camp lobbed insincere jibes back and forth from her seat on the hammock to Camp’s at the tiki bar. Arteaga initially looked away when Camp picked up the phone.
But Camp’s reaction to what was being said on the other end was one of surprise, then horror, then anguish.
Arteaga got up and held her distraught friend. She tried to tell her something in that moment – as well as in the months that followed – to ease her pain, but no words truly sufficed, so she held her tighter.
“No matter how many times you say ‘I’m sorry,’ how many times you tell her ‘Oh, she’s going to be with you’… it helps in a way but, I feel like, just knowing she had someone that she could cry to, and someone that could give some love in return, that’s the only thing I could do,” Arteaga said.
Camp had to be strong for Ellie, who lost more than a connection to home, but a piece of herself; a sister, a soulmate. Camp languished in the same struggle as Arteaga, but tenfold. Here was her best friend, inconsolable through any words. The only thing Camp could do was be there for Ellie in her darkest moments.
“I love her to death and would do anything for her,” Camp said of Ellie. “I consider her family.”
Before Livi’s death, Camp passed by a butterfly garden on the way to one of the Pirate’s games. There was a rock in the garden that said, “If you see a butterfly, it’s a loved one from heaven saying hi.”
After Livi died, Camp was walking past the same garden – talking about Livi with her teammates – when the largest butterfly she had ever seen flew past the rock. It was a brilliant light blue, Livi’s favorite color.
Later, back in Bloomington, Camp was driving home with her mom from the wake. Torrential rain poured down from the sky like tears from heaven – one of those moments where the setting profoundly matches the mood. Camp looked down at the picture of Livi and then spoke aloud.
“OK, Livi, I get it, I hear you,” she said.
As soon as she finished speaking, the rain stopped. Camp’s mom looked toward her in astonishment.
“I’m not crazy, am I?” Camp asked her mom.
“That was so weird,” her mom replied.
Softball is how Camp came to truly know and love Livi. Together, they brought Normal Community West within one out of a state title. There was a while where losing that championship in extra innings was the most devastating thing to happen. Camp’s perspective changed after that day in March 2018.
“I think she appreciated life a little more after that because she saw how…short some people’s life can be,” Arteaga said. “So, she, I think, held everyone a little closer and loved everyone a little more because…life’s short.”
Camp is the heartbeat of a Seton Hall team that has a chance to make the Big East Tournament in 2019 and contend for more in 2020. Sometimes, in the later innings, Camp will look back and call on her angel in the infield.
“Alright Livi, I need you here with me,” she will say.
Livi would want Camp to fearlessly go after her dreams, so that is what she does. For her, the best way of honoring Livi is to embrace it all – the highs and lows – in the game of softball and the game of life.
And, like any pitcher, Camp wants to put up zeroes on the scoreboard, but for Normal Community West’s number zero – the wild spirit.
James Justice can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @JamesJusticeIII.