By Thomas Sellers Jr.
These days a common question to many Tipton County fathers is, ‘When did you know your daughter had the talent to play college softball?’
The latest proud Papa to take on that question was Autry Comer. With his wife Nancy by his side in the Munford Cafeteria Feb. 4, Autry took a moment to reflect on his daughter Tara’s journey to signing a letter of intent to play for Southwest Tennessee.
“The girl started before she was 2,” he recalled. “She would go to T-ball games before she was 2-year-old, and she would come home and drag the tee out of the garage and go out back and hit balls.
They (her sisters) all played softball,” Autry continued. “That was the first sport she actually watched them play — it was softball. She would be up by the backstop while the other kids were playing watching the whole game. She would watch the whole game. Then she would get home and pull that tee back out.”
Her work with the bat at a young age has paid off with Tara becoming on of the leading hitters for the Munford Lady Cougars in 2012. The previous season Comer contributed to her team with her arm winning several games including Sub-State clinching Munford’s first trip to State. That’s a great memory for veteran coach Goulder when Comer won the game that finally sent the Lady Cougars to State.
“I’ll never forget that,” he said. “She’s always ready. That’s what I love about any player who has that type of attitude, ‘Just plug me in and let me go Coach.’ She has enough talent to go and do it.”
The talent of Comer has even provided her future head coach with some good memories. Southwest Skipper Keith Gentry makes sure he makes routine trips to Tipton County to watch players like Comer.
“I can find a lot of the out here and have over the years,” he said. “I’m very excited to get her. We’ll lose a very big part of our lineup in the middle of the order. I believe she can step in and fill that void. I’ve seen her hit some long home runs the last couple of years.
“That’s something she can provide for us as well as pitching,” Gentry continued. “We’re going to look at her with pitching, first base and possibly outfield next fall to what works best for the team. I love players like that who can help me in a lot ways, who are versitile. You never know where you might have to move somebody.”
The work of Autry with his youngest daughter was a major reason Tara became a versatile player.
“By the time she was 2, she could actually hit a ball into the grass off a tee and it would roll 80 feet,” he said. “I would go out and measure. We’re not talking about once hitting it. We’re talking about consistently. From then on, she always wanted to practice.
“She has always been just exceptional to me,” Autry added. “Even when she was playing in Atoka. I remember one time when she was 6 years old, that’s was when the light came on. She was good before. But when she turned 6, it was like this light came on.”
The year his daughter went 58 of 58 at the plate during the regular season was the ephipany moment for Autry. Then when Tara turned 8, Autry knew it was time to work on her pitching.
Using her tall frame and windup to her advantage, Tara became a go-to pitcher for Goulder.
“Tara is a rock,” Goulder said. “She gives us the same effort, which is a great effort, everytime she hits the field. She has a positive attitude and has been a wonderful teammate. And I think a good role model too.”
Autry said part of his daughter being a role model was maturing into a quality pitcher.
“I just saw her get better as a pitcher,” he recalled. “It was one week in particular, they pitched her games in one week. She actually won four games in one week. I knew then she had what it takes. I always knew if she continued to play, there’s no doubt.”
Tara has taken on competiton from Knoxville to Mississippi and Arkansas. When whe was 15, Comer played on an 18-under team beating a college-bound pitcher in one game. She went 5-0 that weekend helping her team win the championship.
Comer said it was her support system that made all her success on all levels possible over the year.
“My Dad has been there for me since I would remember,” she said. “He’s been my coach until I was in the eighth grade. Even though he really can’t now because he works in South Carolina, he still call me before my game. He’ll tell me he’s praying for me and good luck.
“My Mom, she only comes to some of my games because she’s too crazy for me,” Comer added. “She screams and I can’t handle. She’s competitive. My sisters, before I turned 16, they took me to practice all the time. They come to my tournaments and they’re always there to watch me. They were there for me to watch when I was little.”
Her family will still be there when Tara makes her move to play college softball. Having her support system near paid into her decision to sign with Southwest.
“I was a little nervous,” she acknowledged. “But I’m sure I made the right decision. Mainly because it was close to home and I’m a Mommy’s Girl and a Daddy’s Girl. I was not ready to leave. And I’m getting a full ride, so I won’t have to pay anything.”
Her love of softball and years of hard work paid off. Now the girl who has been providing softball memories since she was 2 year old, will have two more years worth of additions.
“Today starts my future,” Comer concluded. “Now I know for the next two years I’m going to be playing at Southwest. And I just have my future ready and the best is yet to come after that.”