Erin Hickey Dransfeldt holds the career record for batting average and is third all-time in stolen bases.
Feb. 23, 2015
(First in a series of feature stories portraying the Class of 2015 honorees being inducted Saturday into the DePaul Athletic Hall of Fame)
CHICAGO – Imagine you’re playing third base as Erin Hickey Dransfeldt strides into the left-hand batter’s box.
The scouting report warns that she’s an excellent bunter and can run like the wind. But it also says she has gap power when swinging away.
With more than a little trepidation, you begin to creep in. You freeze when Hickey cocks back as if to swing only to see her drop a bunt down the third-base line.
One bounce, two bounces---too late.
“Erin is still the standard by which all speed players at DePaul are measured against,” said DePaul coach Eugene Lenti. “She was easily the fastest player we ever had. Her speed was intimidating. If the ball bounced twice on a bunt, she was safe.
“What made her special is that she also had the power to hit home runs and triples. She was indefensible. If you played in for the bunt, Erin would rip it right past you. She developed that power over the years.”
Dransfeldt (1994-97) was a third-team All-American outfielder in 1997 after batting .425---the third-best season mark in school history---along with stealing 33 bases which is tied for first. Her 82 hits in 1997 are also third-best in program history.
She was also an Academic All-American in 1997. She led the Blue Demons to three NCAA tournament appearances including the regional final in 1997. She holds the career record for batting average and singles and is third in stolen bases and on-base percentage.
It’s no wonder Dransfeldt is being inducted into the DePaul Athletic Hall of Fame Saturday along with men’s tennis standout Ray Cahnman, men’s basketball star Quentin Richardson, women’s basketball star Kim Williams and the 1999 Women’s College World Series softball team.
The formal induction ceremony and banquet takes place at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at McGrath-Phillips Arena.
The Class of 2015 will be honored at halftime of the 1 p.m. men's basketball game Saturday against Butler at Allstate Arena and at halftime of the women's basketball game Sunday against Marquette that tips off at 3 p.m. at McGrath-Phillips Arena.
For information on ordering tickets to the Hall of Fame ceremony and banquet, please contact Katie Ramsey at firstname.lastname@example.org or (773) 325-7504.
In high school, Morris coach John Mackinson took notice of Dransfeldt’s raw speed and turned her around into a left-handed batter. She wasn’t a slapper or a bunter with a drop-step or crossover. Dransfeldt simply bunted the ball flat-footed and was a blur to first base.
While helping lead Morris to the state title in 1992, Dransfeldt set national high school records for hits and stolen bases in a season.
Eventually when she was timed by college coaches and officials at the Olympic softball trials, the stopwatches said she made it from home to first in 2.3 seconds.
“I don’t know where I get my speed,” Dransfeldt said. “It was just there. My dad was an athlete and played football in Ohio.”
The Hall of Fame recognition couldn’t have come at a better time.
“I had just had an awful day at work where everything was going wrong,” Dransfeldt said about her job as a counselor at Coal City High School. “When I got home, I was emotionally exhausted. My son Kameron told me I had a message from DePaul. I thought that was interesting.
“I called back, and when I heard Jeanne’s voice (athletic director Jean Lenti Ponsetto) and she told me---it was just so emotional that I started crying. My kids asked if something was wrong. Right after that, I called my husband Kelly at work.
“This is not something you expect. It was something I had hoped for and dreamed of for sure. It was my final goal for softball. But it was out of my hands. I had played my game, and now it was in the hands of the Hall of Fame committee.”
During her Blue Demon career, Dransfeldt played alongside such standouts as Hall of Famer Missy Nowak, Amber Podlesny, Yvette Healy, Amy Ernst, Julie Bonk, Karen Stewart, Michelle Zeiger, Ashley Struggles, Tami Bouck, Nicole Terpstra, Liza Brown, Katy Carter and Jenny Bruno.
“It’s been humbling to play with the best of the best,” Dransfeldt said. “It was because of them that I was able to be successful. My teammates motivated me and helped me to maintain my focus. I looked up to Missy and Amber, and Yvette and I were the lefties at the top of the order.
“I remember one time when I was back at DePaul with my kids. Julie Bonk came over and began telling the kids who I was and what I had accomplished as a softball player. I wanted so badly to interrupt her and say: ‘It was all because of you guys.’”
Dransfeldt’s fast track was derailed her junior season when she tore her anterior cruciate ligament at an early-season tournament in Arizona.
“I tried to get through the season, but the pain was overwhelming,” Dransfeldt said. “There were so many days when I’d come off the field in tears.
“I’ve had six surgeries on that same knee. I lost some speed, but more than that, I wasn’t able to drive the ball (her eight triples as a freshman is the third-best season mark at DePaul). Eug (Lenti) started me slapping, and my last year, I was more of a slapper.”
Cheering the loudest in the audience on Saturday night will be Erin’s husband Kelly along with 14-year-old son Kameron, 12-year-old daughter Kennedy and seven-year-old son Karson.
Erin and Kelly were high school sweethearts at Morris and quite the athletic tandem. Michigan, Bradley and Illinois-Chicago made package deals in recruiting both of them. Kelly wound up playing baseball at Michigan.
“At 17, I had to make the hardest decision ever,” Erin said. “We decided to go our separate ways. It was difficult, but we found out that the strength of our relationship would persevere. What helped us was always focusing on when we’d be together again.”
Kelly was selected by the Texas Rangers in the fourth round of the 1996 Major League Baseball Draft. The couple got married six months later, and he would go on to hit .205 in 51 major league games over the course of his four-year Major League career that ended batting .333 (10-for-30) in 15 games with four RBIs and five runs scored for the White Sox.
When asked by a reporter who was his favorite ballplayer, Kelly quickly answered his wife.
“If I had her skill, I’d probably have 10 years in the big leagues by now,” Kelly also told that reporter.
In looking back, Erin Dransfeldt appreciates the total college experience she had in Lincoln Park.
“Eug is an amazing guy,” she said. “When I took my official visit to DePaul, I was this small-town Morris girl, and the thought of going to Chicago was terrifying to me. Eug made it comfortable for me. He pushed me harder than I ever would have pushed myself and always believed in me.
“Jeanne was always there as a huge supporter. Hearing her voice again---my heart smiled. That voice transported me back to my DePaul days. She was always the first one to congratulate you after a game. Jeanne always had high hopes for us and always had the right things to say.
“When I was asked to pick a walk-up song that will be played when I get inducted, I chose Best Day of My Life by American Authors. That summarizes how I feel.
“I am ridiculously honored and humbled by this, and it will be one of the best days of my life.”
(Tuesday: Kim Williams, women’s basketball)