Alabama Superfan Emily Pitek Is Crimson Tide's Secret Weapon
For Alabama softball superfan Emily Pitek, change has provided her with a second family.
That second family is comprised of those within the Alabama softball program and those who support it. Those people create a crimson sea that fills the green grandstand chair backs and the Brickyard beyond the right field wall at Rhoads Stadium every spring.
None of that would have come to fruition without the spring of 2004 and Pitek's change of opinion on the sport of softball.
Back then, Pitek was a freshman at Alabama and a member of the women’s soccer team. She was informed that she would not be traveling with the team on its spring break trip due to an injury she had sustained.
Pitek was left with nothing to do, as her team was gone and her home in Buffalo, New York was nearly 950 miles away. So, she found herself at a softball game.
“Before coming to college, I did not like the sport of softball whatsoever, like at all, which is kind of jarring for some people to hear,” Pitek said.
Pitek walked into Rhoads Stadium with a crowd of 700 fans and took a seat. A group of young men that called themselves the ‘Bent Tree Boys’ sat in the front couple of rows and created a boisterous environment.
“I love that type of environment,” Pitek said. “I kind of took a cue from them and saw that (Coach Patrick Murphy) was inviting that type of atmosphere from his fans. Supporting others, loudly and boisterously, is in my wheelhouse.”
Along with the rowdy crowd, Pitek was also captivated by the speed of the game and how close fans are to the field. She kept coming back, as she wanted to support her fellow female student-athletes as much as she could.
“My goal going into it was just telling them that someone appreciates what they're doing,” Pitek said.
It’s been 18 years since Pitek began supporting the softball program, and she now leads the party at Rhoads each spring.
“I credit her a lot to the atmosphere at the field because she gets the crowd going,” Murphy said. “Every coach in America that comes here knows who she is. That does not happen in any other sport.”
Alabama softball director of operations and 2012 national champion Jadyn Spencer appreciates Pitek, and believes her support has been “second to none” not only in college softball, but also in collegiate athletics as a whole.
Spencer believes Alabama won game three of the 2015 Tuscaloosa Super Regional against Oklahoma in large part because of Pitek, which sent the program to its 10th appearance at the Women’s College World Series.
Down 3-1 in the bottom of the sixth inning with two outs and the bases loaded, Marisa Runyon came to the plate. It would have been easy for the crowd’s spirits to dampen, as Runyon was 0-for-8 on the weekend heading into the at-bat. But Pitek didn’t let that happen.
Pitek and Alabama's players began the ‘Ala-bama’ chant as Runyon walked up to the plate. Hundreds of fans were on their feet cheering and shaking their crimson and white shakers to encourage the then-sophomore. On the first pitch of the at-bat, Runyon launched a grand slam over the right field wall, which proved to make the difference in the game.
“I think my favorite memory from Alabama softball was that game and that day just because it felt like my ears were bleeding,” Spencer said.
Pitek no longer stands and cheers on the third base dugout by herself. Mary Morgan Tucker and Chad Murdock join her these days, and she’s taken the two fans under her wing.
Both Tucker and Murdock began their friendships in a similar fashion. They each remembered going to softball games and being mesmerized by the way Pitek riled up the crowd.
“Once you visit Rhoads, you want to come back, and an obvious big part of that is because of the great softball,” Murdock said. “The other big part of it is because of Emily and the atmosphere she’s able to create.”
Pitek’s love for Alabama softball is infectious, according to Tucker and Murdock, as they have found their love for the program grow since knowing her.
“You can see that she loves this program so much and she loves the girls so much, Murph so much, and that just bleeds out of her,” Tucker said. “She's right up there with Murph as being the head of the family.”
The Alabama softball superfan does more than lead the cheers and get the crowd into the game. Pitek helps fill and sell out Rhoads Stadium.
“I put up a tweet saying I have grandstand tickets and the tickets are gone in about two minutes on average,” Pitek said.
There’s no self-serving motive for Pitek, either. She does it for the 20 women who suit up in crimson and white and play the sport they love while representing the University of Alabama.
“The players on the team deserve to play in front of packed houses,” Pitek said. “I was a student-athlete, I loved playing in front of full stadiums and feeling like what I was doing was important to somebody.”
What makes it extremely easy for Pitek to support Alabama softball players is because they are a positive light for her two daughters, Lizzy, 7, and Caroline, 6.
“Caroline looked at the (softball) poster and saw Montana (Fouts) was wearing a cross necklace, and she went into her jewelry box and put on a necklace to go to the game,” Pitek said.
Alabama has led the nation in attendance the past 12 years. Yes, ‘Team 26’ is able to fill seats due to being a true national championship contender. But this season, it’s different. The program sold a record 3,200 season tickets and has a great chance of selling out the most games in a single season in its history.
What else can that be attributed to? Call it the Pitek effect.