Women ballplayers hope to get more than one season in the sun Diamonds are a girl's best friend

March 13, 1994|By Jean Marbella | Jean Marbella,Sun Staff Writer

Orlando, Fla. -- One heard about it on TV, got in her car and just started driving from her home in Cincinnati. One flat tire, a smoking engine and a night spent at a Georgia rest stop later, she made it.

Another woman pleaded and cajoled until a police officer allowed her onto a highway in Tennessee that had been closed by an ice storm. And one managed to get a flight out of New York's LaGuardia Airport even after another plane skidded off a snow-slicked runway.

Neither rain nor snow nor a long history of being kept out of the boy's club of professional baseball was going to keep them from their chance to join the first women's minor league team, the Colorado Silver Bullets. They will play men's teams this summer in a barnstorming, groundbreaking series of games that maybe, just maybe, will lead to one of them someday breaking into the majors.

"It's a dream. I keep pinching myself," says Lisa Fritz, 36, the Cincinnati woman who willed her aging car to get her to the team's final tryouts here a week ago -- and was one of just three out of 75 aspirants invited to spring training.

"I had a good feeling about this, though," she says, "because when I pulled in here, the odometer went to '77,777.' "

Lucky numbers -- Micky Mantle wore No. 7 -- and all, the new team adds a grace note this season to this already myth-laden and sentimentalized sport.

Baseball, increasingly the game of millionaires who talk to their agents on cellular phones from the locker room, every once in a while can still make you smile at its innocence: The game that has long let men remain boys now is letting women remain girls.

Or at least dream a little bit longer.

"It's 'A League of Their Own,' " says Phil Niekro, the wily knuckleballer and 14th winningest pitcher of all time who is managing the Silver Bullets.

That delightful 1992 movie, based on the real-life women's baseball league that flowered in the 1940s while the men were off fighting World War II, is evoked often here at the Silver Bullets spring training camp. In fact, two of the team members -- Julie Croteau, who became the first woman to play men's college ball while a student at St. Mary's College in southern Maryland, and K. C. Carr, a St. Louis-based actress -- were in the game scenes of the movie.

But while the "League of Their Own" teams played each other -- wearing short skirts designed more for their audiences than actual utility -- the Silver Bullets are affiliated with the independent Northern League of men's teams. But, because the novelty of baseball-playing women -- even in the standard baseball attire of pants and jerseys -- makes them such a promotional dream, they've been invited to play all sorts of teams this summer, including the Double-A Bowie Baysox. (The date of that game has not yet been confirmed.)

Spring training began Monday with 49 women -- a firefighter, a lawyer and several mothers among them -- and perhaps even more hopes and dreams on the line than the men's teams also preparing for the season elsewhere in the state.

Gina Satriano, 28, an assistant district attorney who prosecutes cases in the Compton area of Los Angeles, still gets emotional talking about what this team means.

"I had to fight to be the first girl in California to play Little League. They kept me from playing on the college team," Ms. Satriano says, her blue hat squashing a mop of curly brown hair and her eyes moistening at the memories as she takes the field for the team's first workout. "I'd moved on in my life. I thought I'd left baseball behind me. But all I ever wanted was an opportunity like this."

Among the large group of family and friends supporting her dream to play pro ball, one is particularly proud of her: her father, Tom Satriano, who played with the California Angels and the Boston Red Sox in the 1960s. "He knows, he's been here," she says. "I talked to him last night, and he said, 'You're going to have the highs and the lows. When you have the lows, call me.' "

Right now, the utter giddiness of getting to play real baseball -- as opposed to the slower-pitch softball that most of these women were shunted to around high school age -- is keeping any lows at bay. Just getting to this point -- some 1,100 women attended tryouts held across the country this winter -- has been a cherished experience, and even the prospect of more than half of them getting cut before the season starts in early May can't dampen their spirits. They already seem like a team, with the kind of instant rapport that comes from shared experiences.

"It's like you've known each other forever," says Elaine Amundsen, 25, of Milford, Conn., who is delaying her training as a private investigator to play on the team.

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