As country music plays in between innings at Anderson Family Field, freshman pitcher Taylor Dockins line dances outside of the Cal State Fullerton softball dugout while she awaits to return to her spot in the lineup.
However, most wouldn’t guess Dockins is a freshman based on her performance in the pitcher’s circle. Her coaches said she approaches the game like a senior returning back to the field, hungry for a win.
“We always try to find those kids that you don’t need to teach much, you just fine tune them. You couldn’t ask for a better athlete like Taylor,” said Caitlin Grimes, Titans volunteer assistant coach.
Dockins is a well-known, decorated athlete throughout the softball community. In her four years of high school, she was a two-time Big 8 All-League athlete and MVP.
In her senior year alone, Dockins was named MaxPreps Player of the Year, California Gatorade Player of the Year, Gatorade National Softball Player of the Year, All-American Player of the Year and So-Cal Player of the Year.
“Spend a day sitting there talking to her to see how her mind works and how she thinks, you’ll understand why she had success,” said Jorge Araujo, Titans Associate Head Coach
However, she became an inspiration to the softball community, nationwide, because of her fierce battle with cancer.
“They always say I’m an inspiration, but really I’m only living my life and making the best out of it,” Dockins said.
During the summer of 2016, fatigue and severe pain overcame Dockins during a softball tournament. She was rushed to the hospital, where blood tests revealed that her liver was the cause of her pain.
A CAT scan uncovered a tumor in her liver, which was quickly removed.
Dockins’ doctors suggested that she put her glove to rest, but her competitive nature and positivity gave her the endurance to be cleared in time for the start of her senior season at Norco High School.
“(The doctors) told me I wouldn’t see the softball field for a year, and I proved them wrong and was back on the field in two months,” Dockins said.
After she joined the Titans roster in 2017, doctors found new spots on her lungs, and with fear of it spreading, Dockins began chemotherapy and set dates for ablation.
But that didn’t stop her from staying active on Anderson Family Field.
Between Dockins’ trips from the hospital to the field, Titans catcher and long-time friend Julia Valenzuela said Dockins surprises her teammates on a regular basis.
“I even had asked her ‘Tay, how are you feeling?’ and she said, ‘I’m doing good. I think running some foul poles would help me feel better,’” Valenzuela said.
— Kelly Ford (@CoachKellyFord) April 13, 2018
And for Dockins, this motivation to return to train makes the rest of the Titans view every other discomfort as miniscule.
“For them to see what I go through and now I’m back in a week, that kind of pushes them to be like ‘Maybe our little soreness or when we feel a little something, maybe it’s not a big deal,’” Dockins said.
Though this part of her life has been shared with the masses, her athletic ability, bubbly personality and mental toughness are the first things anyone will notice after an encounter with Dockins.
The self-motivated athlete was a familiar face to Araujo as he coached her on a travel ball team when she was 10 years old. He described her as “tenacious” and “gritty,” words that don’t typically come to mind when thinking about a child.
Further down the road, the CSUF coaching staff saw her play in a recruiting showcase in Colorado, which surprised Araujo. Her performance during the showcase stunned the coaches and gave her the opportunity to continue her softball career at Cal State Fullerton.
Kelly Ford, Titans head coach, saw the accuracy in Dockins pitching, which led to her recruitment.
“She’s a full package,” Ford said. “We had 12 pitchers lined up across the field and as a coach, you walk through and watch a couple pitches and then you get to Taylor’s like ‘Woah, did you see that? Did that pitch come out of that kid?’”
Dockins’ health has always been the focal point to the coaching staff. They tried to keep her as healthy as possible, but during the fall, limiting her in practice and cutting her conditioning short didn’t stop Dockins’ drive.
“If she had 50 pitches, then she made sure she threw 50, maybe 51 pitches just to make sure she got them in,” Caitlin Grimes said. “She did above and beyond of what she was allowed to do. She pushed it to the limit and that is what she does.”
In her fourth start of the season, Dockins threw a no-hitter against University of San Diego on Feb. 22, becoming the 57th Titan in team history to do so. With 17 appearances during her freshman year, she’s tossed seven complete games and holds a 7-4 record, including one save.
— Titan Softball (@CSUFSoftball) February 23, 2018
Dockins has a 3.31 ERA with 27 strikeouts and only one error in her 78.1 innings pitched.
“She looks so locked-in constantly and I think that is one of the amazing traits that she has. She is always so focused,” Valenzuela said.
When Dockins makes a mistake, whether it is on the field or during practice, it doesn’t linger in her mind. She already knows what she needs to tweak and fixes it instantly.
“The precision that she has and being able to listen, take it in and do it. I don’t need to say a lot to her,” said Titans pitching coach Dallas Escobedo. “You can’t coach what she has.”
All season long, the Titans have rallied around the motto “one pitch at a time.” Seeing how Dockins truly values every pitch in the circle vividly portrays the focus from the Titans and inspires them to continue to dominate the Big West conference, where they hold a 16-2 record.
“When you come out to watch her pitch, you get this feeling that we want to win and want to do it with every single pitch,” said pitcher Sophie Frost. “That is one of the things she does best, she focuses on one pitch at a time. It carries over to all of us.”
But her pitching isn’t the only thing motivating the team, they also said Dockins’ contagious positivity spreads throughout every member on the squad.
“Taylor just brings us all together. She brought this new fire and new presence to the field,” said pitcher Kenzie Grimes.
The team created a leadership council to help continue the growth of the bond. It consisted of two seniors, a junior and two sophomores. However, when it came time to insert a freshman leader, Ford said the team unanimously voted Dockins into the council without a doubt that she belonged with the other head leaders.
“Everybody knows when she has something to say, it’s important,” said right fielder Brooke Clemetson. “There was no doubt in our minds that she would step in and take on the role because that is the type of leader she is.”
Araujo recalls a moment in between a doubleheader where the athletes were giving autographs to young fans. While everyone else cleared out to get ready for the next game, Dockins was still in the stands, signing autographs and talking to the athletes.
He said he believes that moment is a quintessential depiction of Dockins’ character.
“She will give her all, whether it is playing or whatever it might be. Just signing autographs, she gave her all and to me that shows who she is,” Araujo said.
Those who have met the tenacious 19-year-old agree that after one conversation with her, their outlook on life completely changes, and that’s what makes Dockins who she is.
“She has helped our team become relentless because that is one of her main characteristics,” Caitlin Grimes said. “It doesn’t matter what is coming her way, she is going to face it head-on.”