It’s safe to say that the last two softball seasons were extremely frustrating for Jaila Grimes.
The North Bergen junior shortstop, who has been playing varsity softball since she was in eighth grade, had to first endure academic difficulties two seasons ago that cost her most of the season.
“I was really upset that I couldn’t play,” Grimes said. “I was crying a lot. Softball means everything to me and I couldn’t play.”
It was a costly lesson for Grimes.
“Now, I make sure that my grades are really high,” Grimes said. “Not playing hurt me really bad, so now I hit the books.”
Then, there was the adversity that took place toward the end of last season.
Grimes was playing second base in a game against Hoboken and when she went to field a ball, she collided with a Hoboken runner.
“I hit my head really hard,” Grimes said.
The result was a concussion that cost Grimes the rest of the season, namely the final five games of the year.
“I missed the county [playoffs] and states [playoffs],” Grimes said. “My team needed me and I was out. I was really down.”
So as the 2017 season winds down, Grimes, playing in her final season because of age restrictions, wants to make the most of it.
“I want to make up for the time that I lost,” Grimes said. “I felt like I’ve been through enough.”
Veteran North Bergen softball coach Tom Eagleson knew that Grimes had gone through a tough time.
“Oh, yeah,” Eagleson said. “Nothing is ever easy with Jaila. I think she senses that the end of the season is coming and we might have only a few games left.”
Grimes struggled a little at the start of the season, but last week, it was like someone flipped the switch and the diminutive whirlwind just started to hit like her life depended upon it.
“Actually, I was waiting for this all year,” Eagleson said. “I said to her that it was about time she turned it on. I think she’s one of the best players in the county.”
Grimes has certainly played like one over the last week. Last Monday, Grimes had four hits, four runs scored and two RBI in a big win over Bayonne. In that game, Grimes hit a home run, which ironically was the 100th hit of her high school career.
“That was crazy,” Grimes said. “I was really excited about that. I actually didn’t know until he [Eagleson] told me after the game was over. I just knew I needed to do what I have to do. I needed to step it up.”
For the week, Grimes collected seven hits in 11 at-bats, drove in seven runs, scored seven runs and had three stolen bases. More importantly, North Bergen won all four games of the week _ and it came after Eagleson moved Grimes into the cleanup position in the batting order.
For her efforts, Grimes has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.
For the season, Grimes is now batting .435 with that homer, 13 RBI and 21 runs scored.
Grimes comes from a family of softball wizards. Her two older sisters, Crystal and Jaylene, were standouts at North Bergen before her.
“They actually helped me become a better player,” Grimes said. “I learned a lot from them. I got to play one year with Jaylene and that was fun being together. When she graduated, I was upset, but I had to learn to play without her.”
Grimes was a fine second baseman for the Bruins for the last three seasons, earning Hudson Reporter All-Area honors in 2014 when she was an eighth grader. Eagleson first was moving Grimes to third base to begin this season, but a late switch found Grimes at shortstop.
“She’s done everything we’ve asked her to do,” Eagleson said. “It wasn’t easy for her playing a position she’s not used to. I was basically taking a good second baseman that I had penciled in for third base to play shortstop. But it was all for the good of the team.”
It was a move that Grimes actually encouraged.
“I actually wanted to play shortstop,” Grimes said. “I think I’ve done a good job there.”
Eagleson likes having Grimes’ experience and leadership.
“The best thing about it is that I don’t have to worry about her,” Eagleson said. “I don’t have to waste time telling her what to do. She knows what’s expected. She’s been around here for a long time, first watching her sisters and then playing.”
And now, Grimes is making sure that she goes out with a bang. The Bruins were given the No. 3 seed in the Hudson County Tournament and received a bye to the quarterfinals, where there is a possible showdown with St. Dominic Academy looming Tuesday.
“Nothing is going to bother me now,” Grimes said. “I’m really excited about the way I’ve been playing.”
So is Eagleson.
“I knew she could do it,” Eagleson said. “It was just a matter of time.”
Time, which rhymes with Grimes. It almost waxes poetic. – Jim Hague