When Niki Green takes the field for the St. Ambrose softball team, she has an entirely new perspective on the game.
The sophomore from Central DeWitt had little choice.
A serious eye condition threatened to end Green’s career, something neither Green nor Queen Bees coaches wanted to happen.
“We’re talking about a player who hit three home runs while wearing a patch over one eye last season," St. Ambrose coach Ron Farrill said. “That’s how important softball is to her. It was a tough situation."
Strabismus, a condition in which the six muscles attached to the eyes do not move in synch as they receive signals from the brain which directs movement, is something Green has dealt with to some degree since she was in seventh grade.
She underwent tests at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and at the Mayo Clinic and had surgery to deal with the issue.
“I had vision problems off and on, but I was able to deal with it in high school, but it became a problem again last year," Green said. “It’s been an ongoing, progressive thing."
An outfielder, Green found herself lining up for fly balls that would fall to her side instead of finding their way into her glove.
“Frustrating, it was really frustrating," Green said. “My eyes were perfectly straight, but I developed double vision and had virtually no depth perception. It was tough and I knew I had to deal with it again."
That led Green to undergo a second surgery last summer at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and to a solution on the softball field.
St. Ambrose coaches huddled and came up with the idea of a position change, moving Green from outfield to catcher, where at least in theory the ball would be coming toward more of a fixed target on a regular basis.
“When I went in to talk with the coaches before the fall season started, I didn’t know if I was going to be able to continue," Green said. “I was close to tearing up for a time. I didn’t want to quit, but they had an idea."
Green had never spent any significant time in catcher’s gear during a career that stretched to T-ball, but she welcomed the chance to learn.
“Anything for a chance to keep playing," Green said. “I didn’t want it to end."
Neither did Ferrill.
“She has nearly 20/20 vision looking straight ahead, and she now has glasses which create a sort of prism which gives her the vision she needs as she looks to the side," Ferrill said. “We felt like giving her a chance to catch might help her continue to compete."
In reality, it has allowed Green to thrive.
Throughout the fall season and into the winter, other catchers and the pitchers on the Queen Bees roster helped Green learn a new position.
“I couldn’t have done this without them," she said. “They’ve all been awesome, showing me what I need to do and how I needed to set up and that type of thing. It’s been a learning experience for me. There is so much that goes into the position that I never really thought about."
She has worked to learn how to deal with the movement and the speed of the ball as it comes at her, and there have been a few bruises along the way.
“It comes with territory," Green said. “It’s gotten better. It was pretty rough at first, but it’s been a good experience for me. I really like being involved in every play. That’s pretty different from the outfield."
Ferrill said Green has become one of the more consistent catchers in the Midwest Collegiate Conference.
“She has really taken to the position for really never having caught before in her life," Ferrill said. “She’s worked hard at it, and with the arm strength of an outfielder she has been able to use that. Offensively, she has led us in hitting during parts of the season."
Green’s eyes and the muscles around them continue to adjust.
She has had to switch glasses “a couple of times,’’ but she is finding things easier to deal with on a daily basis.
“It’s something I deal with now, but I feel better about where things are at than I have in a long time," Green said. “I’ve been like every hitter this season. Some ups, some downs, but I’m getting back to seeing the ball well and feeling good about where I’m at."
She is batting .374 for the Queen Bees, helping St. Ambrose string together 12 straight late-season wins that positioned the Queen Bees to play for the MCC championship heading into a doubleheader Tuesday against William Penn.
Green has driven home 36 runs this season, second on the team, to go with nine doubles, two triples and the six homers which shares the second spot on the St. Ambrose charts this season.
Mostly, Green simply welcomes the chance to compete.
“I don’t take anything for granted now,’’ she said. “I’m just glad to have a chance to be a part of this team and be out on the field. That means a lot to me."