STILLWATER — About the time Oklahoma State softball slugger Samatha Show flipped her bat to punctuate a home run against Oregon in March, OSU coach Kenny Gajewski heard from an old friend in college baseball who pours water over his Bran Flakes.
Gajewski approached Show and said: “My favorite guy has been kind of hard on ya. He doesn’t like the bat flips. But I told him to get over it. That’s who we are. That’s how we play.”
The Cowgirls flip bats. They razz their coach and each other. They dance for ESPN’s cameras. They say things like senior Taylor Lynch said this week in anticipation of OSU crashing the Women’s College World Series.
“Now we’re at the show,” Lynch announced, “and we’re gonna be the show.”
This blend of self-confidence and self-deprecation is a good reason for neutrals to pull for the Cowgirls in Oklahoma City. It flows through players like Show, Lynch and Raquel Dominguez, the dugout dancing sensation at OSU’s super regional triumph over defending national champion Florida State last week.
The source, though, is Gajewski, the stubble-faced former Oklahoma baseball national champion who spent 10 years taking care of OU’s ball fields before deciding he might like to coach.
“Everything he’s done for this program is so real,” said Lynch, whose 2016 arrival at OSU coincided with Gajewski’s. “He’s so personable. I think that separates him from every other college coach. He’s the same when he recruits you to when you get here. Nothing changes. He’s fun. He keeps things loose.
“That goes back to the biggest part of the game — we’re doing it because we love it.”
Gajewski has come to understand this mantra since leaving his post as Tennessee baseball operations director — the job he took in 2010 after his 10-year run as OU turf doctor — to join old Sooners baseball teammate Tim Walton on Walton’s Florida softball staff in 2012.
Softball players compete, absolutely, but they also chant in the dugout. They express themselves. They extend their arms and airplane into home plate after home runs. They wear flowers in their hair and bedazzled headbands across their brows.
Gajewski came to understand this even as it flew against his baseball upbringing.
“My foundation, there wasn’t a lot of laughing and carrying on,” he said. “My foundation is you just outwork everybody.”
The Cowgirls do work. In fact, they have never worked harder.
“We told (Gajewski) at the beginning of the year we wanted to be coached like a championship team,” Lynch said. “He knew what that was like at Florida (national softball champs in 2014 and ’15). That’s where we want to be. We talked about the Cowgirl Way, and the Cowgirl Way is fighting until we’re the standard for college softball.”
Gajewski has been working on this Cowgirl Way since accepting Mike Holder’s job offer on his mom’s birthday four years ago.
He was at a tournament in Chattanooga, Tennessee, at the time. He told the OSU athletic director “I’m in,” got back to his hotel and started calling every Cowgirl player.
Gajewski’s pitch: “Hey, I know that you didn’t choose me, but I chose you. If you don’t want this opportunity, I’ll let you go. If you want it, I promise I’ll do everything in my power to gain your trust.”
“When he called me, I was like, ‘I really like this guy,’” said Madi Sue Montgomery, the Cowgirls’ senior pillar. “He was saying, ‘I’m gonna be your coach, I’m all in for you guys, I have you all’s back.’ We bought in right away.”
If the Cowgirls were going to work a little harder, so be it. They wanted to win, for one thing, but they also trusted their new coach would change their softball, not them.
As Gajewski came to see the dancing, razzing and bat-flipping was part of them, that the more success they had, the more confident they felt to show their fun, brash sides, he not only accepted it but embraced it.
This confidence the Cowgirls bring into Thursday’s 6 p.m. WCWS showdown against Florida?
“That starts with him,” freshman Chyenne Factor said.
“When he’s coaching third base, he thinks every single one of us is going to get a hit,” Lynch said. “That’s big-time, a coach down the line saying, ‘C’mon, you got this. Whether you’re 0-2 in the count, it doesn’t matter. Just battle back, let’s go.’
“He tells us, ‘You guys are good.’ We know we’re good.”
They’re very good and a whole lot of fun.
“It is our brand,” Gajewski said. “These girls have created that. I like it. There are some people who don’t. Sorry…
“I don’t understand why people don’t think it’s fun. It’s softball. It’s a game. I think we make this too big. This is just a moment in time where we get to make you happy.”