Claremore senior Kaley McMillan is eager to give her softball career the proper sendoff in 2020 after spending her junior season as the Lady Zebras’ manager. Although most of her playtime will come on the junior varsity squad, she takes her role with the team seriously: “If you’re out on the field, you have to play that role and have each other’s back. We all have a job. In the dugout, we cheer our teammates on, and we yell ‘Runner’ or ‘Bunt’, just letting our players out there know that this is what’s going on because we see it first. We can alert them.”

Kaley McMillan wanted to be selfish for once in her life.

After months and months of going through the motions of playing softball, she eventually lost her interest and enthusiasm for the sport and decided to call it quits in 2019.

It was a difficult decision, but it was one McMillan felt she had to make for the wellbeing of the Lady Zebras.

“It was get up, go play — it wasn’t something very special where you’re like, ‘I wanna play,’” McMillan said. “I was losing passion, basically, and I knew that if I would’ve played, I wouldn’t have given 100 percent. I didn’t want to put the team at risk for me not caring enough. So I just took a step down and let incoming freshmen or anybody take my spot because I knew they cared enough to do that.”

Although McMillan stayed with the program as a student-manager her junior year, her choice to seemingly close the book for good on her playing career didn’t sit well with her family.

When she announced her early retirement, her mother took it especially hard.

“My mom cried,” McMillan said. “When I came to that conclusion, she was like, ‘I love to see you play, and Granddaddy loved to see you play.’”

McMillan was only 10 years old when her grandfather, Larry Jo Clinkscales, passed away in 2013.

His final words to her were, ‘My softball angel.’

That phrase has stuck with McMillan, and it led her to realize her passion for the sport and the camaraderie it provides was much stronger than she thought.

“I realized that was a stupid decision not to play,” she said.

Thanks to some inspiration from beyond the grave, the senior third baseman is making a triumphant return to the softball diamond for her final year at Claremore.

McMillan said she knew she’d be making a comeback as soon as the Lady Zebras’ 2019 season wrapped up in October. They finished one game shy of their first state tournament berth since 2013.

“I passed up a year with my friends even though I went to the games and I was there in dugout,” McMillan said. “I passed up playing with my friends and having their backs on the field. Even though I did while in and out of the dugout, I missed it. I realize that when I was manager, I sat on the bench and watched them having a good ole time, and I missed that. I truly missed that. Then I realized I wanted to come back and play. Now I’m here again for one last year with the people I’m close with. Even though I’m not that good, I just want to play one more year with my friends.

“In between the lines, it’s crazy how much you care about somebody for a sport. I care so much, and I wanted to come back out here.”

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