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Victoria a Year Later : First Girl to Start in Little League Series Intends to Keep On Playing

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Victoria Brucker, the girl who captivated the 50th Little League World Series last summer, stepped to the plate in her first at-bat of a baseball game at San Pedro recently and drove a single into short right field.

Almost a year after the perky 12-year-old became the first girl to start, pitch and get a hit in a game at the most famous of all youth baseball championships, she is back to basics in the Major Division of the Eastview Little League Senior League.

In August, Brucker was seen on the front page of newspapers and on television programs across the nation. A teammate referred to her as “just one of the boys” during the series, and the media wouldn’t let Brucker forget it. She spent a month after the series as the darling of television talk shows, despite the fact Eastview lost two of three games in Williamsport, Pa.

In the fall, Brucker traveled the banquet circuit, receiving more interview requests than all of the members of the championship team from Trumbull, Conn., combined.

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Her story since Williamsport is not without anecdotes. She enjoyed meeting Pat McCormick, who won four gold medals in platform and springboard diving at the 1952 and ’56 Olympics, but was angered by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar when he refused to give her a second autograph for her brother.

But it is also a story of a young girl pushed into a woman’s world perhaps before it was her time.

“Sometimes, I think it would have been nice to have just been normal,” Brucker said.

No cameras were present at San Pedro’s Fromhold Field as she scooted down the first-base line, her trademark black hair flowing from under a batting helmet. There were no autograph seekers, although a crowd of about 30 die-hards sat through the chilly afternoon.

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Brucker, wearing a black baseball cap bearing the words “Wonder Woman,” has grown up a lot in eight months.

“At 13 years old, now I can see the girl side in her coming out,” said her mother, Elizabeth Roderick. “She wants to wear skirts and sweaters to school.”

Elizabeth said she was more at ease talking while watching her daughter play at Fromhold than she was at Williamsport, where she “couldn’t move” without a microphone or autograph book being shoved in her face.

“I wish I had been prepared for it,” she said.

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Victoria wasn’t ready to handle all of the attention, either.

“Did the attention bother me? Yes, sometimes,” she said.

At least once during the series she cried behind the locked gates of the players’ complex. On closing day, in front of an estimated 30,000, she was pulled from a crowd of autograph seekers by her stepfather, Rick Roderick. And the morning before she was to make history as the first female to pitch in a series game, hundreds of local teen-agers crowded into the hotel where she was staying and demanded to meet her.

“It was hard to get her all wound down after that,” said Elizabeth, who watched Victoria allow five runs and seven hits in a 10-1 loss to Venezuela.

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Victoria’s return to baseball was moderately successful, at best. But that was expected, since she and her all-star teammates are playing in the Major Division for boys 13-15. In June, they are expected to reunite on a tournament team for 13-year-olds that will play in the Little League’s Minor Division, one of nine holding national championships.

“This competition, against older kids, should help them at tournament time,” said Eastview President Gary Miley.

Still, it is a difficult adjustment for Victoria. Last season she tied for the all-star lead in home runs with nine, but she hit them on fields with 200-foot fences. This season, she plays on fields with fences more than 300 feet away. The bases are the regulation 90 feet apart, not 60, which makes her throw from first base sink as it crosses the diamond.

“It takes about half a season for these younger players (to adjust),” Roderick said.

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Victoria’s male counterparts from the all-star team, many of whom are still protective of her, have grown as much as a foot in the off-season. “Vicky,” as they call her, looks about the same height.

Personal problems have also plagued the family since Williamsport. Victoria pressured her parents to get a transfer from Dodson Junior High School to Dana Junior High. At first her mother was at a loss to explain the request: “I just sensed it was time for her to be with her girlfriends,” she said.

In the four weeks Victoria was separated from her family last summer (she competed in the Western Regional in San Bernardino, at Williamsport, then missed a family outing to Massachusetts after the World Series), a sibling rivalry developed between Victoria and her two sisters and a brother.

“At Williamsport, the kids were making jokes about her to get through all the attention she got,” Elizabeth said.

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Then, after a house fire April 18 destroyed some World Series items and left the family homeless, the feud came to a head. Reporters seemed more interested in the fact that Victoria had lost things from the World Series than in the plight of the family.

“The other kids are really feeling it now,” Elizabeth said. “They say to me, ‘Mom, we lost our things, too, but all anyone cares about is Vicky.’ ”

Rick said most of the reports about the scope of the fire and the loss of memorabilia were inaccurate.

“Most of Vicky’s room was saved,” he said.

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The Rodericks made it clear they do not fault the people of Williamsport or Little League officials for what they refer to as “the blitz” of fans and media in August. But Elizabeth blamed it for much of Eastview’s poor showing--a sentiment echoed by the team’s coaches at the time.

“Do I scold you guys now?” she asked a reporter who was also part of the intrusion at Williamsport. “The kids didn’t get to play like they should have because of all the pressure (because of Victoria being there). I just wish they could play that tournament again without the pressure. We’d see how they would do.”

Victoria, her mother said, will come through the melodrama just fine.

“She is a level-headed kid,” Elizabeth said. “She’s a young lady now. Because she loves baseball more than ever, she knows what she has to do to keep playing it.”

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Reports surfaced at Williamsport that Victoria had been asked to attend Bishop Montgomery High in Torrance next year so she could play on the school’s junior varsity baseball team. The Rodericks said that was not the case.

“She’ll attend San Pedro High School next year . . . and she’ll play baseball there,” Elizabeth said.

Would the Rodericks, who have hired a lawyer to represent them in further bookings, want Victoria to do it all over again?

Yes, they said. America loves heroes, though it also forgets them very quickly.

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