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  • Writer's pictureKarla Ray

A Home Run Homecoming For A Player-Turned-Coach

They say diamonds are a girl’s best friend.

It’s a double entendre for Francesca Enea, who was presented with the most important diamond she’d ever wear atop the diamond that’s shaped her life and is now shaping her family’s future.

While it’s too far to say that softball is the glue holding them together, her marriage to former broadcaster Christian Bruey doesn’t exist without the sport, and it goes without saying that her new job as Assistant Coach for University of Florida Softball didn’t happen without her dedication to the diamond.

But what’s really striking about this couple’s story is how the dedication to each other, and courage to know exactly who they are and what they want out of life, despite others’ expectations, cleared the path for her to take that job.

I’m getting ahead of myself.

I’ve known this couple for about a decade, working alongside Bruey in the same Orlando newsroom for most of that time. But before launching this blog, I never actually knew the story of how this sports power couple met. Of course, it has a tie to softball.

“I was the radio guy, and I was a senior doing a play by play for the Gators softball team. And then this freshman showed up and caught my eye,” Bruey remembers. “I traveled with the team, so I was on the plane, I was, you know, around the team wherever they went. And we started talking through a couple of the road trips and one thing led to another and we had a date and that became a thing.”

The Gators found young love in Gainesville, but Enea admits that before the proposal (and maybe for a time after), softball was her top priority. A star player for the team from 2007 to 2010, she helped the Gators to three consecutive Women’s College World Series appearances, taking second place in 2009 and solidifying her legacy as one of the country’s top power hitters; finishing her collegiate career as the SEC’s all-time home run leader, a three-time NFCA All-American… you get the picture. The girl can round those bases and hit with the best of them.

“In order to be the best at anything you do, you have to kind of make it your number one. And he was always cool being number two on my priority list,” Enea said. “But then I graduated, we got engaged, and as far as a career, there wasn't anything that I was dedicated and determined to do, but I was determined to be a great wife and great have a great partnership with him. And he loved being a sports broadcaster so much that I wanted to support him in what he loved and just being able to be flexible with that.”

For so many young couples, one person’s career tends to take priority. I know in my own marriage, it’s been a series of trade-offs over the last 11 years, with my husband and I jockeying back and forth for who would take the lead at what time. For the Gator grads, Bruey had already moved a few times as a sportscaster, chasing the dream of doing play by play from Maryland to Daytona Beach and eventually in Orlando. The stars- or diamonds- aligned; after years of long distance, Enea had just signed a professional softball contract in Orlando as well.

Despite playing her passion, Enea felt like her softball career was coming to a close.

“I was playing pro softball, but that was truly only taking place during the summers. So then during the fall and in the spring, I did hitting lessons in Orlando, just trying to cultivate my own little softball community, doing camps, and trying to figure out what it was that I wanted to do for my life because I wasn't going to keep playing forever,” Enea said. She had just been voted out of an opportunity to play in the Olympics and the next chance wouldn’t come until 2020, which she felt was too late in her life.

“Orlando was just a really big starting point, I would say, of our lives together, and growing together and learning who we wanted to be as adults.”

Enea jokingly pointed to softball as the reason she had no work experience, spending her entire youth and college career focused on the game. But softball made a way for her again; she took a sports marketing and account management position with Easton Baseball-Softball, learning sales and business skills for six years with the company. She also became a staple in the broadcast booth, calling games for more than a decade for several conferences, keeping her close to the game and creating a juggling act with her now-husband Bruey. Since sports are played 7 days a week, the only consistency was an inconsistent schedule for the couple.

“As our family started to grow, I wanted to stay home a little bit more and do something that was a little bit more rooted,” Enea said. “What was really important to me at the time was my family. I kind of took a step out of softball and started working more in corporate America… doing a 9 to 5 job.”

In sports, success is measured in wins and losses. In life, it’s a bit more fluid; the couple found success in the form of financial stability, a network of friends and raising two young children in a beautiful home in Orlando. Sometimes jobs are just jobs, and the two of them certainly value life over livelihood. Still, success doesn’t always mean you love what you do.

“As far as feeling challenged and feeling passionate about it, absolutely not,” Enea said of her corporate gig. “It just turned into one of those jobs that you just do.”

I probably don’t need to tell you that someone as driven as an All-American athlete isn’t satisfied to just punch a clock, regardless of the lifestyle it provides. As Bruey’s career was reaching new heights, being promoted to a weekday morning news anchor position at the same station where he had been a sports anchor, Enea felt accomplished in her family but unfulfilled with her work.

It would soon become apparent that her husband was feeling the same pull, despite achieving anchor status.

“I think I chased the dream of wanting to, you know, be on SportsCenter like every young broadcaster wants. You see that that's not panning out, and so, the opportunity is there to do the news,” Bruey said. “I started doing the morning show, and that's what I wanted to do. I still had a passion for journalism and telling stories and broadcasting… but then I think I quickly realized that that it's also still very tough,” he said of the hours.

I can attest to the grueling hours firsthand; going to bed at 8:00p or so, and getting up around 3:00a, it can quickly lose its luster. Despite that, I think I speak for everyone close to Bruey that when he made the announcement he was leaving the morning show less than a year after being promoted to the position, one he fought for and a role many people wanted, the word shocked doesn’t do it justice.

“When you have that lack of sleep, a lot of times, unfortunately, you know, the molehill becomes a mountain because you are dealing with stress, the sleep-related stress. And I wanted to be perfect. I wanted the show to be perfect. And when it wasn't perfect, that would piss me off. And so that led me eventually to making the decision to leave it,” Bruey explained. He accepted a position outside of news, and outside of what I think anyone expected; recycling.

“You see people go to public relations, but [I had to ask myself], do I really want to go do PR for a city or county? That didn’t appeal to me at all,” Bruey said. “I think that it took this opportunity where sports was sort of involved for me to really want to, you know, make the jump.”

What do sports have to do with recycling? A lot, I’ve learned. Bruey took a position with the publicly-traded, Orlando-based PureCycle, helping to lead the company’s PureZero™ Program, which seeks partnerships with sports stadiums and other venues to mass recycle certain plastics. The role, which he was offered months after meeting some of PureCycle’s leaders during a news story in 2021, aligns him with many of the same teams he covered as a sportscaster, including the Orlando Magic.

So, what’s it like going from a highly-watched on-air gig, where everyone immediately knows what you do for work, to having to explain what you do for a living? Bruey admits at first, it was a tough transition.

“Do I miss this?” he’d ask himself after walking away from the anchor desk in 2022. “That definitely happened in the first few months. It was like, what did I do?”

There are certain jobs that just get so intertwined with your identity and self-worth, and journalism is one of them. Being the one to tell the story; being the one people turn to; we’d all be lying if we said our egos weren’t somewhat tied up in the studio lights. I know a lot of people who have left the business in recent years, and most of them struggle with that part more than missing the work itself. It’s the going to the grocery store and being asked, hey, what happened to you? Or not being invited to events you once hosted… in some ways, as broadcasters, your byline is your ticket to enter spaces where others aren’t allowed. That front row view to history, the VIP access; it’s a hard thing to cut ties with.

Bruey, though, took the change the way an athlete would when faced with a new opponent.

“Being competitive has always been what I've considered one of my best attributes… I want to win and, you know, I want to be the best that whatever it is that I do, whether that's broadcasting or compiling a social media calendar for a recycling company,” Bruey said. “You just want to succeed in whatever you do.”

He still gets to scratch the play-by-play itch from time to time- most recently calling the Florida State University and Louisiana State University game at Camping World Stadium in Orlando. It’s the same type of opportunity that Enea says kept her going during what she considered a down time in her career.

“Being able to broadcast for Florida Softball games was still that passion project for me,” Enea said. “Those were the things that were helping me get through the mundane 9-to-5 corporate job that I had.”

I would botch the quote if I tried to provide it, but there is a saying about the power of cultivating what’s in front of you during times of waiting for the next big thing. The beauty in the inbetween. The power in patience. Enea couldn’t have known it then, but the time spent calling games and keeping in such close contact with her old program would pay off in a major way.

“Two days before I got this opportunity presented to me, I told [Christian] my dream job would be coaching at Florida Softball with my Head Coach [Tim Walton],” Enea said. “I was like, well, that's never going to happen, though, like that. But that would be the dream.”

Though playing has always been part of her life, Enea had never coached. It was a softball-sized gap in her resume. So, even when approached with the opportunity she quite literally manifested, she second-guessed whether she was qualified.

“I haven't coached. I retired in 2013, and all I did to stay in the game was broadcasting,” Enea said. “There are people who dedicate their entire life to get to an opportunity that I have.”

I’m going to assume here that the majority of those reading this blog may not know Francesca personally, but as someone who does—this self-doubt is not what she leads with. She is an outwardly confident, commanding woman who is sure of herself in any situation. As a new mom, she was one of the most blunt, keep-it-real confidantes I had in those early months. So for HER to have imposter syndrome… is there hope for any of us?

“I am a very confident person, but I have this one part of my brain, and we call it my lizard brain, that doubts every part of who I am,” Enea joked. “I only show it to a few people. It could be at anything that I'm doing, I get a little insecure about it, because I want to do so well and I want to be the best at it.”

Can you believe she even considered turning down her dream job because of that stupid lizard brain?

“Part of me was like, this is a no brainer. We have to do it. Then this other part of me was a little hesitant just because of where we were at in our life in Orlando,” Enea said. “We were very happy, we were settled. We had a plan, and this definitely was not part of the plan.”

But this isn’t a position you turn down. Until recently, the role didn’t even exist; the NCAA just granted some smaller programs, like softball, a fourth coaching position. Historically, Florida had just a head coach and two assistant coaches. This change allowed Fran’s former head coach, Tim Walton, the freedom to take a chance on her, despite her lack of true experience on the other side of the sport.

“If there was one reason for why we would leave Orlando, it's for this,” Enea said.

It helped, too, that Bruey was no longer tied to a TV contract, free to move in more ways than one for the first time in more than ten years.

“This opportunity is too good to pass up on, you know, a chance to come back here to Gainesville,” Bruey said. “To have a chance to be a part of a sports program like the University of Florida, and a softball program where they’ve won a couple of national championships and want to win more, I think that's pretty fun.”

Her love of the game is obvious, but now it’s work. The new assistant coach is feeling the pressure, but trying to channel the same energy she’d use when the bases were loaded and it was her turn to swing.

“If I am up to bat and the game is on the line, I have to shut that noise out if in order for me to succeed. That's the same process that I do in life,” Enea said. “Shut the noise out, fake it ‘til you make it, and if you’re confident enough in what you're doing, people are going to buy it and listen to you.”

When we spoke, there hadn’t even been a full week of practice in the books, but Enea was already plotting for how to expand her reach; from player development, to recruiting, to navigating Florida’s laws that allow collegiate athletes to enter into contracts for the use of their Name, Image, or Likeness. More than anything, she’s excited to mentor; with only ten years separating her from her last game as a player, she hopes to connect to the young women in ways the rest of the coaching staff simply can’t.

“Right now, I would say everyone's very nervous. They're trying to show off to the coaches. I think they're trying to figure out everything right now. But you know, they have told me that they're really happy to have some some energy on the field,” Enea said of her coaching style. “Instead of feeling so tight, they can feel like a little bit more loose.”

I think there are a lot of lessons to be taken from Fran and Christian. First, never let other people’s expectations set the trajectory of your life. Christian leaving news after getting to a weekday anchor role went against what anyone in our newsroom, or our industry, expected, but he knew it wasn’t right for him or his family. Second, never say never. Francesca joked that if someone told her she’d be back in Gainesville, coaching the same team where she made her mark in the record books, she would have laughed in their face (respectfully).

Her advice to the young players could apply to anyone, in any role, seeking any type of promotion:

“You're not going to win or lose a position in one day,” Enea said. “You're going to have bad days. You're going have bad days on the field. You're have bad days in your brain. It all just comes down to how you respond and setting your own goals for yourself.”

As they settle into their new/old city, the couple is setting their own goals, starting with a rather simple one.

“I think we just want to be happy, and I think we've realized that what makes us the most happy is being able to be there for each other,” Bruey said. He doesn’t just mean in the philosophical sense, but physically being there for their kids’ activities, including T-ball practice, which is just getting started.

And like any good athlete who studies game tape to see where they might improve, Bruey knows his family’s success is more than just manifestation. “Definitely bet on yourself, but I think there's also a need to make an informed decision.”

Their playbook is full of calculated risks that have led them to where they are; both making major career changes that, in many ways, only worked out in the exact sequence in which they took place.

“We rely on each other as teammates. We love each other, but we're also best friends. And so, if I'm ever having doubts or insecure or I'm just unsure, I want to I need to talk to him like I need to know what he's thinking,” Enea said.

And though it’s clear her family has taken the top spot on her priority list; she no longer has to choose.

“Softball, I always say it was my first love. And you never forget your first love. It's just something that I can never not have in my life.”

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