Women of Spring : Diamond Deeds, Dugout Doings Show Scrappy Character of 49er Fast-Pitch Softball Team, Ranked 13th in Nation
Spikes scrape in the concrete dugout at Mayfair Park as the 5 p.m. double-header nears. Hands reach for sunflower seeds, bubble gum and metal bats. The center fielder, whose fingernails are painted red, brushes her hair and says that a guy in the stands is “ not my boyfriend.” The third baseman straps a brace over a knee, in which something is wrong, but nobody’s going to fix it because “I don’t want any big scars.” And a pitcher is distressed to discover that she won’t be pitching in a few minutes.
These are the Cal State Long Beach 49ers, the 13th-ranked team in the nation in Division 1 college softball. In their five-year existence, it is the highest they have risen.
Coach Pete Manarino, a tanned man in a gold-hooded sweat shirt, has decided that Diane Lewis, who had expected to pitch the opener against UC Santa Barbara, will not pitch until the second game. But he has not told her. She has found out from teammates.
“He does not communicate,” Lewis complains. “You mentally prepare yourself and what good does it do? I told half my family to be here for the first game.”
The 49ers, in white shirts and brown pants, line up for pregame grounders that Manarino hits sharply to them. They field the balls smoothly, professionally, not even flinching at the short, wicked hops.
The first game, like almost every one in fast-pitch softball, is a pitcher’s battle. A combination of blurry fastballs, mean up-shoots and drops and elusive curves and change-ups keeps batting averages anemic.
In the fifth inning, with the lights on and the hundred or so fans trying to stay warm under blankets, the 49ers lead, 1-0. But Santa Barbara has a runner on first base.
“Possible steal,” Manarino yells from the dugout.
On the next pitch the runner breaks for second. The catcher throws but the shortstop is late getting to the bag. The ball bounds into the outfield--where the grass is so recently cut that the mower’s tracks are still fresh--toward center fielder Cissy Rothfuss. It bounces over her glove and rolls toward the distant fence, where balls seldom go during these games. The runner scores easily to tie the game.
“Christ, I just got done talking about it,” Manarino says.
Rothfuss, whose blond hair sits piled atop her visor, slams her glove down when she returns to the dugout. She wants to know, “Did he (Manarino) say anything bad about me,” then says, “I don’t know what it (the ball) hit.” She sits alone, staring at the seed-littered floor, depression over the rare error setting in for this free spirit from Anaheim Hills, who lists among her feats this season gambling the night away after a game in Las Vegas.
Rothfuss’ teammates, leaning over the fence that runs along the top step of the dugout, chanting organized cheers in the tradition of women’s softball. When third baseman Nancy Graham gets a hit, they scream, “Nancy all right. Nancy all right, whoop, whoop yeah.” For accompaniment, they bang balls and bats against the dugout’s corrugated metal roof, creating a a rhythmic racket that they hope will be as unnerving to Santa Barbara as their constant chants of “rattle, rattle.”
Rothfuss takes a piece of bubble gum, discarding the waxed wrapper only after she has read the funnies printed on it, and waits for her moment of redemption.
It comes in the last of the seventh inning. She leads off with a single. “Cissy all right, Cissy all right. whoop, yeah.”
In the dugout, Lewis, the most exuberant cheerleader, says, “If I knew I was pitching the second game, I’d have ate,” and goes to find her mother. She returns with a fast food restaurant’s children’s meal. Out of it she fishes a blue toy motorcycle and gives it to Sue Trubovitz, who plays with it.
Trubovitz, who will catch the second game, is a junior catcher from Huntington Beach who has brown hair as short as a boy’s, with a tail down the neck. Still, it is much longer than last year, when she had a Mohawk.
Rothfuss is on second now and there are two outs. Manarino calls for Trubovitz to pinch-hit. She puts the toy away and runs to the plate. Angry because she thinks the pitcher is smirking at her, she lines a single. Rothfuss scores and the 49ers win, 2-1.
The umpire walks past the 49er celebration and tells Manarino that Trubovitz better take her jewelry off before the second game. Manarino tells her.
“How can these hurt me?” Trubovitz says as she fingers the thin gold hoops in her earlobes. As Lewis works to remove them, Trubovitz says: “Pitchers shouldn’t laugh before they throw the ball. I thought, ‘She can’t throw it by me.’ Ouch, don’t take skin.”
The earrings removed, Lewis and Trubovitz, the battery for the second game, prepare to warm up.
“She’s the first person I ever met who likes to win more than me,” Lewis says.
Manarino is 32, has a trim build and dark, Italian good looks. He is in his third year at Cal State Long Beach. Previously, he coached girls softball at St. Joseph’s High School in Lakewood where his five-year record was 124-16.
He has the 49ers, who have a 23-11 record, in third place in the Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. behind Cal State Fullerton, the No. 1 team in the country, and 16th-ranked Cal Poly Pomona. The 49ers defeated both teams this season for the first time ever.
Manarino has succeeded despite being at somewhat of a disadvantage. The 49ers are allowed only four scholarships. “Most teams in the top 20 are allowed 11 full rides and have nice budgets,” he said. No player has a full scholarship.
“We have to spread them out,” Manarino said. “Some get tuition and books, some get beyond that. I sit down with them and try to meet their needs.”
Also, the 49ers have no suitable campus field, and Manarino’s assistants are volunteers, his buddies who come out time to time.
‘They’re More Sensitive’
Manarino, who calls his players “a bunch of nice young ladies,” says, “Certainly they’re more sensitive (than men). You try to help them as much as possible. I’m by myself, it’s tough. It’s difficult to get around to 16 girls but I try my darndest.”
Some of the players, though, say they fail to see any sensitivity.
“I wouldn’t come to him with my problems,” Graham said.
Said Manarino: “You’ve got to be careful in the way you approach them. If you get real upset, the way you word it is so important. They get upset real quickly.”
The players believe Manarino, one of only two male coaches in the PCAA, is vain to the point that “he thinks he can get recruits because he’s cute,” says injured second baseman Terri Craft.
Lewis said: “He’s not a bad person. He tries hard, but he doesn’t communicate. When the girls talk among each other (about him), he gets upset, he explodes, and then everybody’s upset. Things need to be talked out more.”
Said Graham, “If we say something, he thinks we’re coaching.”
Manarino, who believes in a scrappy style of play, likes to bunt and steal bases. He plays for one run, because often that is all that is needed--49er opponents average less than a run a game. In pregame talks he says, “Do the little things to win, put pressure on them, you’ve got to make things happen.”
The 49ers have won despite the slump of left fielder Lisa Limp, who is barely hitting .100 after a .337 season in 1985. The leading hitters are Graham with a .263 average overall and .298 in the PCAA. Shortstop Liz Mason and Rothfuss are batting .290 and .289 in the league, respectively.
The team has three top pitchers, led by junior Sandy Winchester, who has a 10-4 record and a 0.33 earned-run average. Kim Lee, a senior, is 8-3 and 0.43 and Lewis, a sophomore and former Millikan High School star, is 5-4 and 0.32. Together, they have 13 shutouts.
Lewis is pitching the second game. She throws all of herself into her windmill windup and the exertion as she lets the ball fly brings from her mouth a whimper as from a wounded animal.
But by the fifth inning she is behind, 2-0, and already has thrown her glove in the dugout in disgust.
And Brenda Greene, the Santa Barbara coach, is thrown out of the game by the umpire that innning for arguing. This enrages the Santa Barbara fans, who sit huddled on the first-base side.
Greene does not leave the park. She sits in the grandstand. Her team looks at her there for signals, which upsets Lewis, who stops pitching and points out to the umpire where Greene is.
“Just because you’re getting beat, don’t be a crybaby,” a fan yells.
It is getting ugly and tense at this pleasant ballpark.
“You just play ball, bitch,” a fan yells at Trubovitz.
“I am, aren’t I,” retorts the catcher.
After the inning, Lewis says the Santa Barbara rooters “are the rudest fans I’ve ever seen,” but she advises her teammates, “Don’t sink to their level.”
“A circus,” says Manarino, who has protested the game.
The 49ers bang on the dugout roof, trying to encourage a comeback, but one does not develop.
Santa Barbara wins, 2-0.
The 49ers walk out to congratulate their opponents.
“Show a lot of class,” Manarino tells them.
They do. Smiles and handclasps are exchanged.
The 49ers gather in left field before Manarino, who stands with his arms folded and says: “The bottom line is we did not play good.”
The players look down at their dirty socks, knowing that, for a change, this communication from their coach, though delivered softly, has come through loud and clear.