Melissa Pura has always thought of herself as somewhat of a tomboy. Starting at 5 years old, she began to play baseball with boys until she was about 12, when her dad coaxed her into playing for softball clubs in her hometown of Salinas.
“I owe all of my success in softball to my dad,” Pura says. “He really believed in me.”
Pura, 21, is a marketing junior at Cal Poly, and she’s also minoring in wine and viticulture.
Her true passion, though, is softball, and it’s paid off.
After being named in January (along with 49 others across the country) to the USA Softball Watch List for the National Collegiate Player of the Year award, the shortstop has hit .310 through 13 games this season. She leads the Mustangs (5-8) in triples (one), home runs (two), slugging percentage (.621), walks drawn (12), on-base percentage (.556) and stolen bases (two, on two attempts).
Of course, such leadership shouldn’t come as a surprise. A year ago she set a single-season Division I Cal Poly record with 48 RBI and led the Big West with 18 doubles, while also finishing in its top 10 in batting average (.364), hits (60), runs (34), home runs (10), total bases (110), and both slugging (.667) and on-base (.412) percentage.
As a freshman in 2006, she paced the Mustangs with 11 home runs while playing every inning at first base in all of Cal Poly’s 50 games.
Pura has come a long way since her childhood days playing baseball with the boys, but remains modest, due in large part to her family, made up of accomplished athletes in their own rights.
Her older sister Megan played volleyball at Santa Clara, while her little sister Caitlyn plays softball as well and hopes to attend Cal Poly to follow in her big sister’s footsteps.
Pura’s love of the game grew even more at Notre Dame High in Salinas, an all-girls school where she was a four-year letterwinner while leading her team to four-straight Tri-County Athletic League titles.
“I love playing so much – it’s been my thing for a long time,” she says. “Baseball is our country’s national pastime. I love watching and playing – it takes real dedication.”
Although a standout, Pura emphasizes the necessity of commitment on a team level, exemplified by the Mustangs’ Big West Conference title last season, and acknowledged by Big West coaches, who voted Cal Poly as the conference favorite heading into this campaign.
“How much you’re going to put in is how much you’ll get out of it,” Pura says. “We work out all year and it’s frustrating that our games don’t start until February. As in any sport, you have to be committed to the team, the coaches, the program – every individual has to come together.”
Pura says one of her most important strengths on the field is being vocal, involved in every play, relaying what the captains are yelling, checking in with infielders and making sure everyone stays on their toes.
“Melissa has many strengths,” says Jenny Condon, head coach of the Cal Poly softball team. “She is extremely talented and athletic. She is a great leader and a hard worker. She is super competitive and loves to compete.”
In spite of her laurels so far, Pura, who could be looking forward to a pending professional career, stays grounded in the present.
“I would consider a career in the pro league if women’s softball was equal with men’s Major League Baseball, but unfortunately it’s not, so I am really concentrating on my studies and getting a good career,” she explains.
The 2007 All-Big West First Team selection says she wants to study abroad, possibly through viticulture classes in another country like Australia or Italy at some point before graduating.
“I would love to continue playing, but I am going to be ready to start my career,” she says. “Who knows? I would love to be involved in my sister’s game, helping her out, or even coming back to Cal Poly to give pointers. That would be cool.”
Condon espouses all the confidence in the world regarding Pura’s future, whatever it may hold in store.
“She has the opportunity to play as long as she wants,” Condon added. “And she definitely runs the pace of the game.”