LAKEWOOD RANCH — Crystal Brown lay sprawled out in the middle of the outfield in complete shock.
It wasn’t until she saw her twin sister, Caitlin, running over from right field with tears in her eyes that Crystal realized something was terribly wrong.
Crystal was playing center field for the Tampa Mustangs during a weekend tournament in December 2011, when she ran in to recover a fly ball. The then eighth-grader attempted to catch the ball on the hop only to have her right leg buckle beneath her.
As her leg twisted one way, Crystal fell to the ground in the opposite direction. Caitlin threw the ball back to the mound and immediately called time out.
“I thought it was just something little,” Crystal says. “At first, I didn’t really feel it. I heard it pop, and as I was lying down I just felt the pain.”
“It was horrible,” Caitlin says. “I thought she just fell. I didn’t know what happened. I didn’t know what to do.”
Two days later, Crystal discovered she had torn her anterior cruciate ligament and would have to spend the next nine months cheering her teammates on from the dugout.
“I was surprised,” Crystal says. “I was really sad. The first three months felt like forever.”
It was the first time in six years that Crystal didn’t take the field with her sister. The two began playing softball together when they were 8 years old and have played on the same recreational and travel-ball teams since.
“We wanted to try something new, and we thought softball sounds like fun,” Caitlin says.
“It was something fun to do when we were little,” Crystal says. “Eventually we wanted to play more competitively, so we moved up to the (Suncoast Storm) and then the (Tampa) Mustangs.”
The nine months following Crystal’s injury — the first injury either one of them had ever sustained — were difficult for both sisters.
“I was really sad because we do everything together,” Caitlin says. “I wanted to win for her. I just felt bad. I know it was weird for her, too, to be out that long.”
Throughout her rehabilitation, Crystal made a vow to return to the field in time to tryout for Lakewood Ranch High softball — a goal the two sisters have shared since they began playing travel ball.
Crystal’s goal came to fruition earlier this year when she and Caitlin were two of four freshmen to make the Lady Mustangs’ varsity roster.
“It always just seems like fun,” Crystal says of playing for the school.
“I was really happy,” Caitlin says. “I couldn’t stop smiling. I was really excited.”
Crystal has since moved over to shortstop; Caitlin remains predominately in right field.
Both sisters have aspirations of hitting at least one home run and improving their games this season. But, although both Crystal and Caitlin each have their own strengths, the two aren’t about to divulge who the better player is in the family.
“I let other people judge us,” Caitlin says.
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].