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Originally published February 8, 2010 at 8:23 PM | Page modified February 9, 2010 at 11:17 AM

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Jerry Brewer

Huskies softball pitcher Danielle Lawrie: A star on the field, not in her mind

Washington's Danielle Lawrie led the Huskies to the NCAA softball title last year, and was named player of the year. The senior pitcher doesn't like to think of herself as a star, though.

Seattle Times staff columnist

No, Danielle Lawrie insists, she's not a star.

She's sitting in a sweltering media room packed with journalists who came mostly to talk to her. She's answering questions about handling autograph seekers and embracing shrieking kids and schmoozing with other household names. She's revisiting her 2009 run as both a champion and the national softball player of the year.

But, no, she's not a whatchamacallit.

Call her competitive. Call her fiery. Call her driven. Call her goofy. Call her the poster child for stunningly white teeth. Call her a leader desperate to make the most of her senior year at Washington.

"But not a star," she says, laughing. "No."

After all these years, maybe we've found the one thing that intimidates the most intimidating pitcher in college softball.

Excessive praise.

She doesn't know what to do with it. Contrary to Lawrie's modesty, she drove past stardom a few rest stops ago. In her sport, she's a superstar, and even outside of softball, she has made some transcendent strides. Rarely does an American athlete acquire the recognition she has without playing baseball, basketball or football.

Lawrie is a source of this city's sporting pride, and when you watch her pitch, you understand that she's not just famous because she's an incredible talent in what has been a lackluster sports town lately. She's an incredible talent, period.

But don't expect Lawrie to bathe in the hype. She's reluctant to accept fame, which is interesting because she possesses so much swagger. Watch her operate in the circle, listen to her talk about competition, and she appears more brash than a tribe of Venoy Overtons. That's merely a persona, however.

Doubt fuels her. Any hint of disrespect enrages her. Success is her only option. Lawrie remembers what her father, Russ, told her growing up: "When you're competing, if you have to kill someone to win, do it. Second place is not OK."

Winning is her only motivation. But when Lawrie has nothing to fight for, she reveals a different side.

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"At times, I enjoy it," she says of the whatchamacallit treatment. "I really do. But there are times I wish everybody got that recognition because it's not just me. That's the thing about sports. It's tough, especially pitching. Everyone sees you throw and throw and throw, and when you win, it's like, 'Oh, it's the pitcher.' But there's so much more to it than me."

I covered a chunk of the Huskies' national-title run last season, and the whole time, she kept trying to convince media members that senior All-American second baseman Ashley Charters was the best player on the team. In a conversation Monday, she offered the thought again.

"I think Ashley Charters is a bigger deal than me," said Lawrie, who will have to play this season without Charters. "She is. She's so good. I don't know anybody who could hit .500 in the College World Series and get on base every time. That's crazy."

Lawrie's humility is real. Huskies shortstop Jenn Salling, one of her best friends, says she occasionally jokes with Lawrie about her popularity, but it's not often because Lawrie never shows much ego.

"It's not like she walks around and flaunts that she's Danielle," Salling said. "She's pretty low-key about it, and that's kind of nice. I don't think she needs her horn to be tooted any more, ya know?"

Lawrie, whose Huskies open the season Thursday, is too focused on proving herself over and over again to celebrate what she's accomplished. I remember reporting a feature about her last spring — which included how she bloodied a boy's nose as a child to defend her little brother. In one of the games I watched for that story, she threw a one-hitter against Oregon in an easy victory. After the win, I joked that I didn't need to talk to her because she allowed a hit. At first, Lawrie didn't get the humor.

"What?!?!" she exclaimed, and if she'd been near a softball at that moment, I reckon there would've been a beheading. "Fine then!"

Another Lawrie story: After winning the national title last June, Washington coach Heather Tarr called her the best pitcher in school history. Everyone considered it merely affirmation of a truth. But Lawrie wept.

It was like she'd never considered that she was so great. Maybe one day, she'll appreciate her impact.

"Maybe after this season, if it works out exactly the way I want it, maybe I'll look back at my five years here and say, 'You know what? I felt like I did a good job of contributing,' " Lawrie said.

Contributing? What about being a whatchamacallit?

"Not a star," she says, laughing. "No."

Greatness doesn't need a title anyway.

Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or jbrewer@seattletimes.com, Twitter: @Jerry_Brewer

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Jerry Brewer offers a unique perspective on the world of sports.
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