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U.S. OLYMPIC FESTIVAL : Rouse Proves She Can Hit the Ball and Catch It, Too

<i> Times Staff Writer </i>

The fence at Hall of Fame Stadium, site of women’s fast-pitch softball in the U. S. Olympic Festival, is about four feet high, white, and--thank goodness--collapses on impact.

If it did not, Priscilla Rouse would right now be on a stretcher instead of wiping perspiration from her brow as she stands behind the West team’s dugout.

It wasn’t long after the former Cal State Northridge All-American first jogged out to her spot in center field Monday that softball took on an entirely new dimension for Oklahomans: It became a contact sport.

“Yeah,” Rouse says, shooting a glance back over her shoulder at the little white monster, “Me and the wall have become good friends. We just keep bumping into each other.”

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And with spectacular results.

In the West’s first four games, Rouse stole four home runs and simultaneously remodeled the outfield boundary.

“When you have speed and athletic ability like Priscilla does, you can do anything,” says Joe Getherall, coach of the West team.

Nearly anything and everything, which is what Rouse has done so far. In addition to stealing home runs, Rouse has hit one herself, a two-run blast on Wednesday that helped propel the West to a 3-0 win over the North.

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Offensively, Rouse always has been a threat. In 1987, she batted .425 with 4 doubles, 6 triples, 4 home runs and 26 runs batted in to help Northridge win the NCAA Division II championship.

For her to be recognized for defense is something new, however.

Ever since 1982, after she led Kennedy High to its only City Section 4-A Division softball championship, Rouse has felt branded by the letters DH, as in designated hitter.

She accepted a scholarship to play for Coach Sharon Backus at UCLA, but was used mostly as a batter her first year and didn’t stick around for her second.

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The way Rouse saw it, she should have been starting in the field all along.

“There I was DH-ing for UCLA, the defending national champions, as a freshman. And then Sharon Backus had the nerve to call me a utility player,” says Rouse, her voice rising with sarcasm and humor.

“I mean, I didn’t even know what a utility player was. All I knew was that utilities had something to do with the gas and electric bills. I said, ‘How dare you call me that!’ I was very young and naive about the whole sport.”

Rouse can laugh about it now, but at the time player and coach battled regularly, with neither willing to back down.

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“We were both real strong-willed,” Rouse says. “She was like, ‘I think you should quit.’ And I was like, ‘No, I’m not a quitter. You cut me.’ ”

Finally, Backus obliged. Rouse transferred to Northridge, but found herself in much the same situation.

CSUN Coach Gary Torgeson was committed to players he had recruited as freshmen, leaving little room in the starting lineup for newcomers.

Although she platooned in right field in 1986, her primary role was DH, and she appeared in fewer than half of CSUN’s games.

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She pulled through the frustration on words of encouragement from, of all people, Sharon Backus.

“She always told me, ‘Priscilla, you’re just as good as anyone else. You’re just young,’ ” Rouse recalls. “She never doubted me as a player. She just knew I had some growing up to do. And she was right.

“ ‘You’re just as good as anyone else.’ I kept that with me.”

During her senior season at Northridge she finally proved it.

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The Southern California Invasion, a top amateur softball team, added Rouse to its roster for the American Softball Assn. nationals that summer.

Last season, she stuck with the team and was used in a rotation of four outfielders.

Then, when Barbara Jordan, the Invasion’s star center fielder, left for another team in Northern California, Rouse took the position.

“Nothing has come easy to me. No one has given me anything on a silver platter. I’ve worked for it, which is why I guess I can appreciate this so much,” Rouse says of her opportunity to play in the Olympic Festival. “It’s always been a challenge getting a foot in the door.”

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A lesson has been learned, however.

“It’s made me a stronger person,” she says. “I don’t give up easily. It’s even helped in the work environment. If something doesn’t work out right away I evaluate the situation and say, ‘Now how can I get in this door?’ ”

If only there were a professional league for women’s softball. Then there would be no hardship--financial or otherwise.

“If I had my choice this is what I would do to make 50 or 60 grand a year,” Rouse says. “But it’s not a choice.”

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Instead, she spends much of her time training when she is not working as a computer programmer.

Playing softball in 90-degree heat and high humidity is how Rouse is spending half her vacation time this year.

The other half will be taken next month when the Invasion plays in the ASA nationals in Decatur, Ill.

“I’ll probably have to take at least one day without any compensation for that,” Rouse says. “Oh well, I’ll just eat salad for a week.”

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