It was among the more adorable questions LSU softball coach Beth Torina has fielded from her three daughters who’ve grown more quizzical over the increased time with their mother during the coronavirus pandemic.
Consider this first offering from 6-year-old Tatum to her mom.
“She wanted to know if I was still the coach at Tiger softball or if I was just a mom now?” said Torina, whose ninth LSU team was 21-3 when the 2020 season was cut short by the NCAA mandating all sports shut down for the remainder of the school year.
In fairness, Torina’s daughters Tatum, Taryn (also 6) and 4-year-old Tenley have only known their mom as coach of the Tigers, guiding LSU to 381 wins and four women’s College World Series.
What the Torina girls have noticed since March 12, the date LSU’s season was halted by the COVID-19 health scare, is a lot more of their mother at home instead of Tiger Park.
“Sometimes before, she’s asked if I could just be a mom instead of being the coach at Tiger softball,” Torina said of Tatum. “When I said I’m still going to be the coach I’ve asked, `Do you want me to just to stay home?’ She said `No, I was hoping you were going to Tiger softball soon.’”
Torina agreed. She dedicates a portion daily in her home office to softball-related matters by joining conference calls with school administrators and handling requisite program paperwork.
It’s clearly a 180-degree turn for Torina.
She’s gone from the March 14 heart-wrenching scenario watching her team clean out their lockers to embracing spending more time with her daughters who she’s home-schooling with husband Nick since Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards issued stay-at-home orders.
“I try to make the time count, I don’t think I’ll have this opportunity again,” Torina said. “I’m really trying to be purposeful and enjoy it, even though it’s hard and your patience wears thin. You think about the things in your usual routine. I’m trying to see this time as a gift and use it accordingly.”
Torina has shed her more recognizable title as college softball coach – a label she’s worn for the past 13 years – for ‘kindergarten’ teacher. With her mother Betty Dieter having served as an elementary teacher for more than three decades, Torina was somewhat prepared to step into a circle other than the one she pitched from 20 years ago during her University of Florida collegiate career.
She has yearned for a sense of normalcy for her children. So, she’s brought her coaching organization and vision from Tiger Park to home where her lineup card has some of the same attention to detail.
Each “school” day for Team Torina consists of journal writing, math, reading and P.E.
“I didn’t think I was as thorough as their teacher and we weren’t doing as much,” she said. “I tried to keep a structured day because I felt that was so much healthier for them in this situation. The kids’ teachers are so amazing. They’ve given us a good template and a lot of good resources that we can use to do stuff.”
The Torinas have tried replicating a regular school day for their daughters starting with their normal morning routine.
Instead of Beth driving the girls to their respective schools before going to work, husband Nick will now occasionally pick them up outside the house, drive them around the neighborhood’s cul-de-sac three times and bring them back home to provide them with a semblance of being dropped off at school.
“They think it’s hilarious,” Torina said of her girls.
After bringing her girls to school, Torina’s day used to consist of practice-planning meetings, conducting practice and then returning home from another action-packed day trying to improve her team that’s reached college softball’s high-rent district with four CWS trips to Oklahoma City in eight previous seasons.
Torina’s parents were responsible for pick-up after school and getting their grandchildren to extra-curricular activities, such as swimming and gymnastics. When they returned home, Nick Torina began homework with Taryn and Tatum until Beth was back in time to provide relief.
Now, in the new mandated social distancing world, each five-hour day of learning and instruction begins with journal writing where each Torina daughter is prompted with a subject.
“Recently, Taryn was asked `What’s her favorite animal?’” Torina said. “She said a tiger because it made her think of Tiger softball.”
It’s commonplace to find Torina’s daughters at Tiger Park, not only to watch their mother coach, but to witness their favorite team play with a group of 20-plus players who’ve served as surrogate mothers at some point.
Torina jokingly said it’s easy to find any of her daughters in her office at the stadium, in the press box, stands or suites. It’s almost second nature because Tiger Park has served as a second home during their lives.
“They help themselves,” she said of her girls. “They’re all over.”
The near month-long absence without LSU softball in which the Tigers were scheduled this weekend for a highly anticipated SEC series at 2019 CWS semi-finalist Alabama has been noticeable for Torina’s daughters.
“I think they miss it, too,” she said. “Tatum used to go to the games early with me. She went to warm-ups some days and snuck into the pregame meal just to have time with the players.”
The end of the new Torina ‘school’ day includes P.E. when the girls play tennis or work on softball skills. They had looked forward to competing on their respective teams in the Healing Place Church spring league, but it was cancelled.
Torina wants her girls to be well-rounded players and works on their pitching and catching. Nick, a former college baseball at the University of Houston, develops them as hitters where he’s found plenty incentive along the way.
“He’s always pitching to them, trying to get them to hit the ball over our neighbor’s fence,” she said. “He bribes them to hit home runs with video games, candy. He’s into it. It’s a family atmosphere out there.”
If there’s any remaining burst of energy remaining after all of the reading, writing, arithmetic and P.E., the girls conclude their weekdays with an eight-mile bike ride with their parents. It’s another glaring example of a coronavirus-changed world that Torina doesn’t take for granted.
“We all need to try and find a silver lining in it, this is definitely that for me,” Torina said. “It’s been fun to find things that we can do together as a family, to try and be creative and find projects around the house. It’s been fun and given us a chance to grow as a family, enjoy each other. I don’t think we’ll get this opportunity again, so we’ve got to try and make the most of the time that we have.”