From May 30, 1982 to September 19, 1998, shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. was a constant for the Baltimore Orioles, playing in 2,632 consecutive contests. Mississippi State senior second baseman Heidi Shape has become the Bulldogs’ version of baseball’s Iron Man.
Since the beginning of the 2011 season, the Bulldogs have played 169 games. Shape has been the starting second baseman for all of them.
“It has been a lot of fun,” Shape said. “Obviously everybody wants to come and play. It has been nice to have that opportunity.”
Shape has been a constant near the top of the lineup and as a leader of the infield defense, but nearly everything else about the program has changed. Shape’s sophomore year was when head coach Vann Stuedeman arrived on campus and changed the culture of MSU softball.
“Along with the coaching change came a culture change,” Shape explained. “It’s more of a family environment now. It wasn’t a priority to really help each other out before. When Vann came it was so much different. It turned out to be the best thing that could happen.”
Helping foster a family environment is Shape’s close relationship with fellow senior Sam Lenahan. The two grew up 10 minutes apart in Gwinnett County, Ga., and have known each other through softball for more than 10 years.
“I decided to come here and it has worked out great that Sam came here, too,” Shape said. “We’ve been friends forever. We played together during summer travel ball and against each other in high school softball.”
The team dynamic has certainly changed since Stuedeman’s arrival, and so has Shape’s production on the field. As a freshman, she batted .236 with 22 runs scored and 29 driven in. A year later, her first under Stuedeman, Shape upped her production to a .259 average and 30 RBI. Shape turned in her best season to date last spring, hitting nearly .300 (.298) and scoring a personal-best 27 runs.
Shape credits Stuedeman’s approach for helping her develop into a better player on the field, and even a better person.
“The main thing I’ve picked up is to control the controllable,” Shape said. “There are so many things I used to get so mad about. If I can’t control it, I can’t get mad about it. That’s something that helps me in all aspects. Vann has taught us so much.”
More than individual success, Shape is focused on team success during her final season in the Maroon and White. Despite helping MSU to consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances for the first time since 2007-09, Shape wants more for her final campaign.
“It has been fun the last two trips, but we want to go further,” Shape said. “The first year we made it. Last year we wanted to do better. We did and won a game. Now we want more. Every time you go, you want more each time. That’s the point we’re all at now. It’s fun going to regionals, but how much more fun would it be to go to super regionals or the world series? Lots more fun.”
If Shape can lift the Bulldogs to the NCAA Super Regional round or beyond this spring, her legacy will not only be consecutive games played, but also helping to create a tradition of postseason success in Starkville.