By Vytas Mazeika
Daily Bruin Senior Staff
April 18, 2002
A little over a year ago, Jessica Manson, a
17-year-old from Ohio, had the option to meet
virtually anyone in the world.
A high school softball player recovering from
Hodgkin's disease, Manson could request an encounter
with just about any celebrity through the Make a Wish
She chose Stacey Nuveman.
Why Nuveman? A junior at UCLA, the catcher had just
won an Olympic gold medal in 2000 to follow her 1999
Nuveman had already hit 51 home runs in only her first
two collegiate seasons and breaking the NCAA career
home run mark of 85 was merely a formality. And Manson
wanted nothing more than to meet one of her idols.
Manson wanted Nuveman to come to her high school, to
share her wish with her softball teammates, the same
friends who saw her through the chemo and radiation
treatments. Manson, who has never travelled to Los
Angeles, could have come to UCLA and visited
Hollywood. But her teammates wouldn't have been there.
That kind of sacrifice, Manson's fight with cancer and
the whole experience, hit Nuveman hard. The trip to
Ohio re-enforced (in Nuveman) the idea that softball
is a game, and life is life.
The moment so overwhelmed her, she couldn't help but
"To me, just to think that some girl from a small town
in Ohio read about me in the USA Today and wants to
meet me ... that to me was just overwhelming," Nuveman
"Awards, records, all that. Literally, burn them all.
Send them all home. Take my name out of everything. If
my legacy is left that I had an impact on one person
as far away as she was, going through cancer, life and
death, that means more than anything else I've ever
Manson is now healthy, in remission from Hodgkin's.
And as Nuveman, now in her senior season, finds
herself three home runs shy of breaking the NCAA
record, she is very comfortable about admitting she is
not likely to hold the mark for long.
The record doesn't matter all that much.
Nuveman had already achieved a great deal of balance
prior to the trip to Ohio. She doesn't rely just on
softball and those who know her best call her a better
person than a softball player.
"I think it's a testament to her upbringing and her
family," UCLA head coach Sue Enquist said. "There are
a lot of great softball players out there, but there
are so few that are as balanced as Stacey Nuveman."
Her parents couldn't agree more.
"She has a lot of dimensions that go beyond softball.
Way beyond softball," her mother, Susan, said. "She's
going to be a success no matter what, regardless of
But she's just so good at softball. Nuveman will leave
her footprint all over the UCLA media guide. Her
discipline at the plate for a slugger is rather
disturbing. The 44 walks to only seven strikeouts this
season show how Nuveman can be aggressive yet
selective at the same time.
"Stacey has got a gift," volunteer assistant coach and
Olympic teammate Lisa Fernandez said. "I don't know of
too many hitters that are as powerful as she is being
able to hit not only for power but for average."
How feared is she?
Susan recalled what a friend of theirs, whose daughter
played at Washington, once said: "Your daughter would
have to be a paraplegic, in a wheelchair, with a
glass-eye, and I still would walk her. She's damaged
our program so many times."
Whenever a hitter reaches second base, leaving first
open, Nuveman is almost automatically walked. What
other options do teams have? It's the lesser of two
evils to put her on base rather than allow her to beat
"We intentionally walked her twice today,
unintentionally, of course," Cal head coach Diane
Ninemire said after Sunday's 1-0 loss to UCLA.
No, she's not perfect. Nuveman's only visible drawback
on the softball field is her speed. Though she has
three stolen bases this season, she is not likely to
leg out many hits.
"Like she says, 'I can hit with the best of them. I
can field with the best of them. I can't run with the
best of them,'" Susan said.
"She always says 'I got my dad's speed,'" her father,
As Tom Nuveman spent a lot of time coaching his son in
little league, his wife had to remind him that there
was also an 8-year-old girl around.
"Tom grew up in a family of all boys, so it's like
'What do I do with a little girl?'" Susan said.
The answer was to bribe her with money for the snack
bar, which Stacey would use to get the likes of nachos
"I'd get my food and then go play in the jungle gym. I
didn't watch the games," Stacey said.
Tom ran her through drills with the boys and kept her
busy shagging fly balls. When they would get home, Tom
kept telling Susan how Stacey was better than half of
the older boys out there, and how Stacey would grab
the team's equipment bag and take out her favorite
"I thought catcher's gear was the coolest thing,"
Stacey said. "I'd walk around and pretend I was
Looking back, catcher's gear is not as much fun for
Nuveman. It's more of a burden actually. But she
didn't have to worry about that early on.
When she began organized softball at age 9, the coach
put her at first base because the other girls were
afraid of Nuveman's throws.
That's where Nuveman picked up an early habit. Nuveman
would waive to her mother from her hip.
"She always tells that story and I'd like to say that
I don't remember doing that, but I actually do,"
Nuveman said. "And it's so funny now, because if I'm
playing first base she always tries to wave at me now.
She wants me to wave at her, but I just won't do it."
Now Stacey will try to look away, or acknowledge her
mother with a simple nod of the head. It's an inside
joke within the family.
Just as Susan concerned herself with whether Stacey
had fun, Tom was the one pushing her when on the
field. Tom stopped Stacey's practice of the wave at an
early stage because he knew his daughter must focus
while on the field.
At points, if both parents drove to a softball game,
Stacey would prefer to drive home with her mother
because she didn't want to discuss the specifics with
Today both parents admit they've learned not to talk
about the game much. Stacey's performance speaks for
The other day in the airport, Nuveman's team lost at a
board game, and those around her were unable to, at
least early on, help her shake off her bad mood.
That fire inside was lit long ago during repeated
losses in just about anything to her older brother,
"I credit him to my competitive spirit," Nuveman said.
"I wasn't born with the 'I have to win at any cost'
and that's how he was. And I used to always lose.
Finally it got to the point where I was sick of losing
and I wanted to win."
That hatred for losing is probably why last year's
result left her dissatisfied. In 2000, UCLA finished
second to Arizona, losing the NCAA title game 1-0.
Hitters like Leneah Manuma of Arizona or Jenny Topping
of Cal State Fullerton could eventually break
Nuveman's soon-to-be career home run record. But no
one can take a title away from you, and that, being an
ultimate team goal, is what drives Nuveman this
A sixth-year senior (because of a 1998 redshirt year
and the 2000 season spent with the Olympic team),
Nuveman had to make the decision to fully commit
herself to softball again.
"As a sixth-year senior, it's a big joke and everyone
laughs about it," Nuveman said. "But it's not easy to
come back after being around the block. It's like,
'OK, this is supposed to be a mile race and I'm on my
To make sure she just wouldn't go through the motions
this season, Nuveman took off for Europe last summer
for seven weeks after she finished a short tour with
Near the end of her vacation, mentally rested and
refreshed, she began to think about softball once
again. She no longer saw the sprints as a burden, but
rather a gift. She was now ready to be the
"grandmother" of the team.
"She's just one of those people that you want to have
on your team and not against you," senior
centerfielder Amanda Freed said. "She's one of those
people that others want to follow."
Not so long ago, Nuveman was still obsessed with
perfection. But after her experiences in UCLA, the
Olympics, Oklahoma City and Ohio, she can now step
back, feel at ease with herself, and concentrate on
what matters most.
"I think what is impressive about Stacey and the
legacy that she leaves behind," Enquist said, "is she
truly gets it when it comes to perspective, putting
the sport where it belongs in her life."