Lisa Modglin juggles softball, accounting
AKRON, Ohio -- Lisa Modglin never took her eye off the softball as she propelled herself out of the batter's box. Not as the ball skidded past Cat Osterman in the pitching circle, not when it tipped off Natasha Watley's glove as the shortstop dove to her left in pursuit and not when center fielder Caitlin Lowe approached as it rolled toward a stop in the grass just beyond the infield.
Not satisfied with hitting a single off one of the sport's best pitchers, Modglin watched the ball and made a decision. Instead of coasting into first base, she made a sharp left turn and accelerated. Caught by surprise, Lowe tried to react, but her throw arrived half a beat after Modglin. The sixth-year outfielder for the Akron Racers stood on second base with just about as short a double as it's possible to hit, three all-time greats victimized in her wake.
It was a display of attention to detail worthy of an accountant.
And that's not a metaphor.
In the months when she isn't playing professional softball as a center fielder for the Racers, Modglin is a senior accountant with Caliber Accounting and Tax, a public California firm that does consulting, tax planning and tax returns for businesses. She is under no illusions about which of the two jobs is her career, but she is willing and even eager to put off the fast track in one so she can savor a window of opportunity that closes quickly in the other.
"There is a side of her that is just not an accountant," Racers co-owner and general manager Joey Arrietta said. "You watch her on the field or in the locker room, you would never think she's an accountant. She does not have that personality. I think that she has this two sides to who she is -- this really, really detailed, very structured [side], but then there's this fun-loving, emotional, athletic young woman who expresses herself through the game."
Modglin is a rarity in National Pro Fastpitch for a couple of reasons. At 27, she's older than most of the players in a league that is largely populated by those no more than a couple of years out of college. Only three of her Racers teammates and 17 players in the league are older than she is. And unlike most of those who play for more than a season or two, fitting the summer schedule around jobs coaching or teaching softball the rest of the year, Modglin pays her bills with an offseason job that has nothing to do with the sport, an office replacing the batting cage and business attire replacing cleats.
Modglin didn't set out to attempt a unique juggling act. A business major with a concentration in accounting at Cal Poly, she figured she would leave softball behind and venture into the so-called real world once her college career concluded in 2007. But in the midst of a senior season in which she hit .476 with 16 home runs and 10 stolen bases for the Mustangs, she heard more and more about the NPF. For someone who played for a mid-major program and made the NCAA tournament just once in her college career -- the only trip Cal Poly had ever made to that point -- a chance to play against the likes of Osterman, Jennie Finch and Monica Abbott loomed as one final challenge.
"We're not in the Pac-12 and we're not in the SEC [at Cal Poly], and it was almost to prove to myself that I could play against the best competition every single day," Modglin said.
She played with the New England Riptide for a summer, then went back and completed her degree at Cal Poly while she coached at a community college near her California home. One season became two seasons with the Riptide, and a position as a volunteer assistant coach at her alma mater gave her something to do during that second offseason while she studied for the CPA exam. The Riptide folded after the 2008 season, but she signed on for a third season, this time with the Racers. It was only at the end of that summer in 2009 that she took a job with Caliber. Her real career awaited and her softball career was over, she told herself.
That first fall brought few second thoughts, but rumblings of regret arrived with the start of a new college season. By the time friends began final preparations for the pro season, she couldn't silence her internal clock.
"It was heart-wrenching to think about summer going by and I'm not going to be doing this, I'm not going to be doing something that I love," Modglin said. "Accounting is my career, but softball is my passion, and that's always how it's going to be."
She called Arrietta and told her she was thinking about playing softball again but wouldn't know if it was even an option until she spoke with her boss at Caliber. Arrietta said there would always be a place waiting for her if she wanted it. That was in late April, mere weeks before players reported for the 2010 season. Not sure if she would find a sympathetic ear or be laughed out of the room, Modglin went to Eric Schwefler, a partner at Caliber, to ask if she could take the summer off with next to no notice and still have a job to return to in the fall. To her surprise, he was receptive, cautioning only that the decision had consequences, that it would slow her progress toward a promotion, as had been the case for him when he took time off after the birth of his first child. If she understood the sacrifice she would make, the company would support her.
A few weeks later, Modglin stood in the center-field grass at Firestone Stadium in Akron.
"This is so much better than a career," she recalled thinking. "Not that accounting is bad, but this is so much better than sitting in an office right now. I'm outside, I'm playing with my teammates, I'm playing against the best competition in the world. Nothing can beat it."
It's no coincidence that the season that followed was the best of her career. She led the league in stolen bases and was named the NPF's defensive player of the year. Quitting hasn't crossed her mind since.
Not that it's easy for an accountant to stay in shape as a professional athlete. From January through April, the only season that concerns Modglin is tax season. She's in the office by 6:30 in the morning and considers it a lucky break if she's out the door 12 hours later, a routine that extends six and often seven days a week during the height of the crush before the mid-April tax deadline. In its own way, the work is rewarding, bringing the satisfaction of finding a way to save someone money or improve a business, but the skills she sharpens in those instances aren't much help when it comes to putting bat on ball against Osterman or chasing down a fly ball.
"I think it's one of the hardest things because I'm in two completely different worlds," Modglin said. "The people that I work with are very, very supportive of me, but we're not talking about softball all the time. It's not just training; it's learning the game more and more and more. A lot of the girls who are coaches or teachers or whatever, they're still around it, and they're still learning all the time. Whereas my brain literally shuts off from softball, especially because our busiest months of the year are January through April, which is right before I head out for the summer."
In one sense, Modglin's arrangement is unique, the product of her passion, yes, but also because two people, Schwefler and Arrietta, are apparently impressed enough by her to go out of their way to accommodate her schedule. All the stars aligned, so to speak, to allow it to happen. But if the circumstances of being a softball-playing accountant are hers alone, she is far from singular in balancing a career track against a life outside the office.
Shortly before she left for Ohio this summer, Modglin learned she had been promoted to senior accountant. The promotion might have come a little sooner if she didn't spend three months each year playing softball, and there may be peers ahead of her in the queue for the next promotion. But at what cost would it have come if she didn't have a chance to stretch a single into a double at the expense of three of the best players who ever played the game?
There is no right answer -- only the answer at which any individual arrives.
For Modglin, it was simple. She will be an accountant for a long time. She chooses to be a softball player for as long as she can.
"She's a funny person. She's very caring; she'll do anything in the world for you," teammate Lisa Norris said. "She's a big leader for this team. She's the one who gets us pumped, she's the one who takes care of us on road trips, makes sure we have all the uniforms cleaned and washed. She's that motherly person for our team."
She's also off the clock. So when it comes to their taxes, her teammates are on their own.
"She just tells us to go to TurboTax," Norris said.