Growing up in Marlboro, New Jersey with two older brothers, Alexandra DiGrande was surrounded by baseball as a young child. Her brothers, Sal and Anthony, played the sport, along with her dad, uncle, and grandpa. It was no surprise then when she asked her dad if she could play too. Her father introduced her to softball and the rest is history.
“As soon as I picked up the bat and ball and was throwing and hitting, I just fell in love with it,” DiGrande said in an interview with Jersey Sporting News.
DiGrande liked the game from the jump, wanting to play catcher like her brother, dad, and uncle. While many young softball players shy away from the position, being behind the plate ensured she was involved in every play and resulted in her becoming a vocal leader on the field.
As a kid, DiGrande played Little League starting around the age of six and grew up with the sport, making close bonds that remain intact to this day. Starting with tee-ball and climbing through the ranks as she got older, playing coach-pitch, then for a travel team in Marlboro created by her and her friends’ dads.
It was fun playing for her dad, DiGrande said, but it was also hard at times, saying dads are always harder on their kids.
The team had a group of girls who split up when they got to middle school—some went to Marlboro Middle School, while the others went to Marlboro Memorial Middle School.
“It was fun because we grew up playing with each other and we finally got to play against each other,” DiGrande said. “We were very competitive. Playing in middle school was beyond fun.”
Come her eighth-grade season, DiGrande and her friends won the championship for Marlboro Middle School for the first time in school history.
After that, there was no stopping for rest, as DiGrande would play on Junior Varsity as a freshman at Marlboro High School. She moved up to Varsity as the starting catcher during her sophomore year. DiGrande, along with the girls she played with as a child, were finally reunited on the softball field.
“It was really fun because we knew each other since we were six and already knew what each person was going to do before they did it. Our chemistry off the field was so close that once we got on the field, everyone knew what to do,” she said.
DiGrande excelled on the field but also academically. In her sophomore year, she decided she wanted to continue her softball career after high school.
“I would think to myself if in three years I would really be ready to give it up. ‘Am I really ready to hang up my cleats and stop playing?” DiGrande pondered. Seeing her older teammates graduate, some of whom went on to play in college while others stopped, made her realize she was meant to keep playing post-high school.
At that point, she buckled down and focused on achieving her dream.
The Mustangs became the first softball team in Marlboro High School history to win the Division Championship during her senior year.
When it came time to pick a school to continue her education and playing career, DiGrande chose to attend Stevenson University in Maryland as a Mustang—a funny coincidence, DiGrande said—and to study nursing.
She played softball her whole life and felt prepared to balance academics and practices, workouts, and games. But college was a whole different ball game. DiGrande learned how important time management was and how important the sport was to her. She also realized she did not want to pursue nursing as she initially thought. She switched to education, specifically math and science, telling Jersey Sporting News that she enjoyed working with children as a camp counselor and babysitter during her teenage years.
By her sophomore year, DiGrande was in classrooms and creating lesson plans while juggling softball responsibilities.
“I could see myself making lesson plans at night and then the next morning going to teach then playing a sport or coaching,” she said. “That’s when I realized I wanted to be a coach because I was able to balance everything and knew I could do it.”
As it would turn out, that realization and dream became a reality for DiGrande, who stayed in touch with her MHS teammates and coach Scalzo, who reached out to her when COVID-19 pushed back the start of the softball season while DiGrande was still at Stevenson.
“Because the season was delayed, Scalzo asked if I wanted to volunteer with the varsity team when I got home,” she said, adding that she told him she would love to.
DiGrande found herself finishing her college season while filling out paperwork to be able to help coach at Marlboro High School, stating everything came together in a matter of days.
Her old coach and now mentor, Scalzo, taught DiGrande the ins and outs of coaching.
“I kept asking him questions about building a lineup and when to make switches because as a player. I never thought about that stuff. I just went out there and hit the ball and made the play behind the plate,” DiGrande said.
Today, DiGrande serves as the head coach for the Junior Varsity team and is the pitching and catching coach for Varsity. She channels her energy into keeping her team upbeat and positive, regardless of the score.
During the day, DiGrande teaches math at a middle school in Old Bridge. She “absolutely loves it,” saying she helps shape her students and prepare them for high school and life beyond academics.
DiGrande added that she tries to teach all her kids the importance of building bonds, as softball taught her how to foster and maintain friendships through years of peaks and valleys. That is the most important lesson she learned growing up with softball and working with others as a team.
As my discussion with Alexandra DiGrande ended, she emphasized that softball is the most fun sport out there and how it shaped who she is today.
(Photos courtesy of Alexandra DiGrande)