top of page

How One Softball Superfan Brought the Softball Community Together to Spread Some Real Holiday Spirit

What started as an ordinary trip to the pet store to pick up dog food became an extraordinary and unforgettable experience for Emily Pitek.

Many softball fans will recognize Pitek’s name, though some who don’t know her by name are sure to know her if they saw her. For years, Pitek’s striped overalls and pink sombrero have been mainstays at Alabama softball games.

Known for her “Look at my socks!” good-natured heckling to opposing third basemen playing against her Crimson Tide and for her seemingly-never-ending energy in leading the Alabama fans’ cheering section, Pitek was part of the inaugural class inducted into the ESPN Hall of Fans in 2012.

But this story isn’t about Pitek – she’d tell you that herself.

Rather, it’s about how her chance meeting with a retail store employee became an all-time inspiring story of compassion and community.

Picking up pet food is a regular task for many Americans; just as normal as a trip to the grocery store or the coffee shop. When Pitek stopped by Petco to pick up some dog food last Monday morning, she had a conversation with a store employee named Kat. Pitek’s young son, Patrick, was along for the ride and Kat mentioned that she had a son around the same age.

As the two moms talked about their children, Pitek learned that Kat’s son has autism. She also learned of some struggles that the still-new mom was having in providing for what her son truly needs.

Upon returning home after running errands, Pitek decided to do what she could to help her newfound friend. She opened Twitter and posted a simple message.

“Was getting dog food w/ PATRICK at [Petco],” the initial tweet read.

“Worker there commented [about] him. Got to talking. Her son, same age, has autism. She started crying bc reality has set in that her son is different. I want to raise $ so I can give her a [gift card] for toys/therapies for him.”

Along with the tweet, Pitek posted information for her personal Venmo account. She didn’t know who might be inspired to give, but she hoped to be able to give Kat and her son a true Christmas surprise.

“Initially, I was hoping to raise between $500 and $1000 for them,” Pitek said later.

Just an hour after posting her initial tweet, Pitek tweeted again with an update on the fundraising. In 60 minutes’ time, thanks to the work of the interwebs, $850 had already been donated to help a struggling young mom.

Remember that never-ending-energy of Pitek’s that has helped her lead cheers at softball games for years on end? Well, that same energy came out once again, this time on Kat’s behalf.

Through the course of the next week, donations poured in. People gave from all parts of the country.

And, of course, the sport of softball showed out when called upon.

Pitek maintains an audience of nearly 7,000 Twitter followers, so her organic reach is significant. But Kat’s story and the opportunity to help carried far and wide all on its own. Softball coaches, players, and fans gave. What initially began as a goal of raising $500-$1000 kept reaching new benchmarks.

In four hours, the total was over $1,600.

Twelve hours after the original posting, the $5,000 plateau had been crossed.

Once the Donate-A-Palooza caught on, even more donations poured in. Coaches and players from nearly half of the Division 1 conferences gave. Pitek even used her famous heckling as an incentive to entice SEC coaches to donate.

“If you donate, I promise not to heckle you!” she posted in one tweet. Whether or not the promise of not being heckled was the ultimate incentive, the message got out: By the end of fundraising, every SEC softball program had been represented in the giving.

The very day after Pitek’s initial, by-happenstance meeting with the employee who became known as “#KatatPetco”, the donation total crossed $8,000.

Then it passed $9,000. Shortly thereafter, here came five-digits when it reached $10,000.

Donations came in other forms, too. There were age-appropriate toys, gift cards, therapies, even a tablet for the youngster to use when he was at the right age.

The final donation milestone was crossed on Thursday: $15,000.

By then, plans were already in place on how the gifts would be presented. The Petco manager was looped in and a surprise was arranged for Saturday, #KatatPetco’s next day of work. The one who still had no idea that anything was going on was Kat herself.

Pitek and compay were at Petco as soon as the store opened on Saturday morning. When Kat met the group – which included Pitek and a few friends, in true Christmas-spirit fashion – the first gift was $500.

“But wait, there’s more!” Pitek told the unsuspecting mom.

What followed was a trip outside, where the physical gifts and the remainder of the donations were presented. At one point, Kat fell to her knees, overwhelmed by the surprises and gifts.

Some hours later, Pitek was reflecting on the entire week’s events, beginning with her first encounter with Kat on Monday morning all the way up to the gift-giving on Saturday morning.

“Everyday, people have the choice to wake up and make someone else’s life better. This week I was overwhelmed with how many people chose to positively impact the lives of two complete strangers,” Pitek mused.

“A huge thank you to the collegiate softball community. I have always felt lucky that [Alabama head coach Patrick] Murphy lets me still come to games and do what I do. But in the years I have been the crazy loud girl in overalls yelling at folks to look at my socks, I have gained so many friends through the sport. This week, everybody showed up, showed out, and did their own version of cheering someone on.”

After the gift presentation, Pitek went to breakfast and Kat went back to work.

Their days continued on, but neither will soon forget the chance encounter that inspired countless people and guaranteed this is one holiday season that will never be forgotten.


bottom of page