Swinging an aluminum bat, Susan Abbott stood at home plate and smacked a ball toward third base on opening day of the North Torrance West Little League.
“C’mon guys, try it again,” said the manager of the Indians, a team of boys ages 8 to 10 who appeared nervous in their pregame drills.
“Second base, babe,” Abbott, a Hawthorne resident, called out as she hit a fly ball to the center fielder, who let it trickle between his legs.
“Adam, you are either over or under the ball, but never overrun it.”
Abbott is believed to be one of the few female Little League field managers in the country. She said she has not seen nor heard of many women managers in her four seasons on the job.
Officials at Little League headquarters in Williamsport, Pa., said that outside of the youngest division (T-ball), very few women manage Little League teams.
Abbott is also a single parent. And there is added pressure because her son, Dominic, who pitched the Indians to victory in the opener, is considered a future South Bay high school star.
She is, in effect, “Coach Mommy.”
Strong Love Bond
“She is the most dedicated woman in baseball that I know,” said Kitty Vanderhoof, the league’s player agent. “We have a hard enough time getting one person from a two-parent family to help out here, let alone someone from a one-parent family.”
The Abbott story is a love story. It is about the bond between a mother and her son and how baseball has been an important outlet for them to share. It has carried them through some rough financial and emotional times.
“I love my mom a lot,” Dominic said as he watched a televised Dodger game with his mother at their home recently. “She’s a real special person.”
A former softball catcher, Abbott has taught Dominic the game’s finer points for a long time. He was in diapers when he learned how to swing a plastic bat and throw a ball.
“I’m just doing everything I know his dad would have wanted to do with him,” Abbott said.
The knock on the front door 11 years ago still seems larger than life for Susan Abbott. The policemen from Tomah, Wis., had come to tell her that her boyfriend had died in an automobile crash.
Dominic never knew his father. Five weeks after the death of her boyfriend, Abbott realized she was going to have a baby.
Dominic says being raised by a single parent isn’t a problem. “It’s not tough without a father,” he said. “She’s just as good as both put together.” Abbott says that they have managed without a man around the house.
She was born in Inglewood, one of six children. By the time she was 14, the family had lived in 22 cities. She moved in 1968 to Wisconsin with her parents and returned to Inglewood when Dominic was about 3.
Abbott discovered that the city of her birth had changed drastically.
A month after she returned to California, a woman was stabbed to death outside Abbott’s rented house on Prairie Avenue. Abbott then found a house in Hawthorne because she felt the South Bay had better employment opportunities.
“I just didn’t see a lot of prospects in Wisconsin,” she said. Once settled, however, she could not land what she wanted here, either.
“I was a hellion (as a young woman),” Abbott said. That led to a poor start in the job market. Finally, she landed a small grant and enrolled in a technical college. It was a turning point in her life.
“In high school I got only Cs and Ds,” she said. “But this is something I wanted, so I went for it.”
To make ends meet she typed resumes and did secretarial work in her home.
Today she is an executive secretary at a South Bay aerospace firm. She laughs now about the turn of events and how she clawed her way to a better existence.
With a cigarette in one hand, she lifted her other hand in front of her face.
“Look at this nail,” she said, displaying a mangled red fingernail. “I lost one from a ball last night and now one today from a filing cabinet.”
It is difficult to miss the diminutive Abbott on the field. On opening day she wore bright red pants, matching fingernail polish and a white baseball jersey. On her shirt in red block letters was printed “Mgr. Susan.” In the midday sun, an auburn tint highlighted long dark hair, adding a feminine touch to the American pastime.
The North Torrance West Little League field at Columbia Park was overly dusty that day and the grass was unevenly cut. But that did not stop the Indians from running--they scored six runs in the first inning of a 17-6 victory over the Yankees by stealing or taking advantage of wild pitches and passed balls.
The Indians appear to be a mirror image of their manager’s personality.
“She’s very aggressive,” said North Torrance West President Walter Mulvaney.
Abbott has been criticized and congratulated for that style of play. It is, she said, an extension of how she lives her life.
“She’s a decent coach,” said Bruce Howell, a rival manager. “You have to be aggressive. It’s an aggressive game.”
Howell believes that Abbott’s teams are always competitive because Dominic is such a good player. “If you have one or two good players at this age, the game is usually over after the first couple of innings,” he said.
Players Respect Her
Vanderhoof, the player agent, said most of the players have a deep respect for Abbott. “We have kids who sign up (who) specifically ask to be on her team,” she said. “She tells them right up front that she won’t take any guff from them. She sets the guidelines right away.”
Abbott has fought hard to earn respect. Of Howell, her chief adversary, she said: “I don’t think he likes me, but I think he respects me.”
“I don’t know if I like her or if I respect her,” Howell said. “In my opinion, something is lost when a woman coaches baseball.”
Abbott, her detractors say, stands too firm on many issues.
“I don’t hate her,” Howell said. “We get in some scraps about things. She’s a really nice person when you get to know her. My wife says to me, ‘That Susan, she’s always lookin’ for a fight.’ I say, ‘No she is not. She’s just that way.’ ”
On opening day, Abbott called her team into the dugout and in surprisingly soft tones, talked to them about their roles. Then, in front of bleachers full of parents munching nachos and hot dogs, she encouraged each player to do his best.
When a player was called out on strikes, Abbott met him at the dugout with a high five.
“Next time you go down, go down swinging,” she told him.
Another player was hit in the knee by a wild pitch and Abbott was one of the first to reach him. She put her arm around him and walked the sobbing boy back to the dugout.
Coach Mommy was at home.