OKLAHOMA CITY — Alabama softball head coach Patrick Murphy unabashedly calls his star pitcher, Montana Fouts, “a rock star, an icon and a legend.”
These descriptive terms, as precise as they are, clearly make lowly Fouts uncomfortable.
“I don’t know if I consider myself that, but I’m very honored that he does,” she said Wednesday at the Women’s College World Series last month.
Fouts earned her status on the playing field. During Alabama’s visit to the WCWS in 2021, she pitched the sixth perfect game in WCWS history in a win over UCLA. In the same WCWS, she recorded a career-high 16 strikeouts in a win over Arizona.
This season, she matched her career-high in strikeouts in a February outing against Georgia Southern and pitched another perfect game, this one in six innings, at Mississippi State in April. She appeared in 40 games, with 29 starts, and finished with a 25-10 overall record and a 1.48 ERA.
Fouts hypertensed his left knee during the SEC Tournament in May, casting doubt on whether or not he could contribute to Alabama’s NCAA postseason. She lifted all doubts, elevating her celebrity status even further by heroically providing relief during Alabama’s NCAA run through Tuscaloosa Regional and Super Regional rounds. As a grad student in her fifth year of eligibility, the victory she scored in relief in the game against Northwestern that landed Bama’s trip to Oklahoma City was the 100th of her storied career and came as she wore a huge brace to stabilize her knee.
“Honestly, God has blessed me with a lot less pain than you probably think. The pain is temporary. I’ll feel that another day,” Fouts said.
Alabama’s sports scene has certainly had more than its share of sports celebrities over the years. Bryce Young, quarterback for Tide’s 2020 National Championship team, won a Heisman Trophy and was recently the No. 1 selection in the NFL Draft. There have been many others – none greater, in fact, than the head coach who led the football team to six national titles, Nick Saban.
Murphy used an example involving Saban to illustrate how prominent Fouts has become on the Tuscaloosa campus and beyond.
“Saban has ‘Nick at Noon’ (event) on Friday before home football games.” Murphy said. “They have about 600 people crammed into this hotel ballroom where they are having lunch. Then they have a warm-up speaker.”
Two years ago, Murphy was the warm-up speaker and was in the middle of his act when a gentleman from the Alabama Department of Athletics waved him off to wrap up.
“What’s weird is you never know when Coach Saban is going to show up,” Murphy said. “I’m telling this great story. I think it’s the best story in the world. Then I see this (guy pointing out Saban) coming up. I was like, ‘Oh, man. Roll Tide, everybody.’ And I get off stage.”
At least Murphy was invited back to be the warm-up speaker at one of last year’s events, ostensibly, perhaps, to wrap up the previous year’s story. That’s when he brought Fouts.
“This year I was the warm-up guy before Texas A&M, which was a huge game,” Murphy said. “There were 750 people in that ballroom. I don’t think you can put another chair in there. I brought Miss Fouts with me. When we walked in everyone was queuing to eat. We walked to the front of the room, right next to the stage, and I don’t think anyone saw her.”
Everyone continued to eat, and finally Murphy got up and did his part. This time, however, when he walked towards the closure, he received a different hand signal, telling him to pull it out. Saban had not yet arrived.
“I didn’t know what to do,” Murphy said. So he leaned on Fouts’ celebrity status to help him out.
“I showed Montana’s tweet after last year when she announced she was returning for her fifth year. I said, ‘Loyalty is very, very, very hard to come by these days, but a child had it.’ They put his tweet on the screen, and the place went crazy. I said, ‘You know what? I have a surprise for you guys. I have a friend who came over and wanted to say hello,” Murphy said.
“Of course, Miss Montana stands up. She’s 6-foot-2, so now everyone sees her. There were 12 guys from the 2012 national championship team there too. … We were laughing. Montana gets up, she gives her speech, which was great, she gets another standing ovation.
Then one of the gentlemen in the crowd knocked Fouts and Murphy down as they started to leave.
The beaming man asked, “Murph, did you hear Montana’s ovation was twice as loud as the national championship (players)?”
From there, as they laughed it all off and headed out the door to go to softball practice, someone else ran up to the Fouts-Murphy tandem.
“Hey, Montana,” this man called. “I love watching you pitch.”
It was Saban.
“Nothing for me,” Murphy recalled with a laugh. “Montana got the kudos from Coach Saban. It was a really cool moment for me because I think he watches us all the time, especially from his living room.
“She East a rockstar. Everywhere we go is wild. The Beatles are coming to town. It’s Michael Jordan getting off the bus. That’s the best way to describe it.”
All of this reminded Fouts of when Murphy first recruited her with a promise that obviously came to fruition.
“I remember before I signed up here, I was on the phone with Murph,” Fouts said. “I was pacing around my room, like a 12-year-old does when he’s talking to Patrick Murphy. He was talking to me and said, ‘If you come here, you’re going to be a rock star.’
“I was like, ‘Wait, I want to be a rock star.’ The rest is history.”