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Playing Hardball : The All-Woman Colorado Silver Bullets Baseball Team Is Challenging the Men at Their Own Game. For the Bullets, Win or Lose, It’s a Dream Come True. For the Men, It’s Win or Else.

<i> Pat Jordan is a former minor league pitcher who was a teammate of Phil Niekro in McCook, Neb., in 1959. His last story for the magazine was a profile of Brian Boitano</i>

It is a peaceful Mother’s Day in Ft. Mill, South Carolina--warm, sunlit, with no hint of dread. A good day to play two, as Ernie Banks used to say. Inside Knights Castle, a minor league stadium, the air is filled with the lulling sounds of baseball. The crack of a bat against a ball. The soft crunch of spikes digging into red clay. The slap of a fist into leather.

The Colorado Silver Bullets, preparing for their first formal game, are being watched over lovingly by family members and supporters. Not all of their fans are here, of course. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Janet Reno, for instance, couldn’t make it, so they sent letters of encouragement. Geena Davis, the actress, sent a letter, too. She exhorted the Bullets to “kick the asses” of their competition today. She signed her name, followed by her uniform number, 8, which she wore as a member of the Rockford Peaches in “A League of Their Own.”

The Bullets also are being watched over by their sponsors, owners, manager, coaches, publicist and assorted other staffers, all mingling with 100 or so members of the sports media. Whenever possible, someone from the Bullets’ entourage leads a journalist over to one of the Bullets for an interview. In fact, the area around the home-team dugout and behind the home plate batting-practice cage is dotted with tight little groups of reporters recording the players’ every word, covering this practice as if it were Game 7 of the World Series.

The Bullets look like professional ballplayers in their immaculate gray uniforms with bright red-and-blue script across their chests. The hitters hitch up their pants, toss grass into the wind and grunt loudly on each swing. The infielders, faces down, charge ground balls, snapping them up on the short hop. Outfielders backpedal lazily, shade their eyes with their gloves and swipe fly balls out of the sky. The pitchers throw in the bullpen with compact overhand motions.

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Still, there is something stylized about the Bullets. At the plate, the pitches are slapped at, not ripped. The fielding is a tick slow, as if the players were calculating each move rather than reacting--throwing and catching as if the game itself, not other players, would be their main adversary. Which may be why they are so quick to congratulate one another: “Good catch, Shae!” “Thanks, Kim!”

The Silver Bullets are members of the first and only women’s professional baseball team in decades. Not since the All-American Girls Baseball League of the ‘40s and ‘50s have women had the chance to play pro hardball. Never before have they had a chance to play it against men. This season the Bullets will make history, playing about 50 exhibition games against men’s college, amateur, semipro and minor league teams. Today, in this borrowed stadium, they will challenge the All Stars of the independent Double-A Northern League.

The Bullets are owned by Whittle Sports Properties, a division of Whittle Communications in Knoxville, Tenn., and they are sponsored by the Coors Brewing Co. to the tune of about $2.5 million this season, $20,000 each for five months’ work, more than the average minor leaguer gets. They will be playing against men because both Whittle and Coors believe that they can reap a profit and, in Coors’ case, product recognition through the novelty of a baseball battle of the sexes.

As the women practice, Phil Niekro, former big league knuckleballer and now the Bullets’ manager, leans against a bat and explains all of this and more to a clutch of reporters. Women have obvious disadvantages when competing against men in baseball, Niekro admits, some of which are inherent in the physiology and some of which are a holdover from fast-pitch softball, the game most of them were playing just a few months ago.

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Consider the hitters and that awkward slapping motion. In fast-pitch softball, the slap is desirable--the idea is that the pitch’s considerable speed will generate power. In baseball, hitters use their own strength to drive the ball. Then there is the ball itself. The women are used to gripping a big softball with four fingers, rather than the two fingers used to grip a baseball. They are used to swinging lightweight aluminum bats rather than the heavier wooden bats used in baseball. They are used to tracking a big ball across a small field, not vice versa.

But, Niekro adds, in some ways the women have surprised him. They are excellent infielders, with the arm strength to nail a runner at first from deep third. The pitchers are his biggest surprise. With technically perfect motions, they can set up hitters and deliver decent curveballs and sliders, excellent change-ups and good fastballs in the 78-m.p.h. range (Tom Glavine, the Atlanta Braves’ Cy Young Award pitcher, for years threw chiefly in the low 80s range).

In a way, Niekro says, even the women’s physical disadvantages turned out to be strengths. Because they can’t fire a ball on a line from center field to home, they have to field as most baseball players are taught but seldom do--throwing to the cutoff man behind second base, who then relays the ball home. They have to execute the mechanics of the game, seeing it as a chessboard requiring proper moves, rather than a strength game. And women are easier to coach.

“You show them something and their eyes get big,” says Niekro. “ ‘Teach me!’ they say, and they do it right every time. You can’t show ‘em enough. They have no bad habits, because everything is new to them.”

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Well, almost no bad habits. Niekro runs a tight ship; his feeling is that his players must act like the pros--which is to say, men--or lose their opponents’ respect. He has spent a lot of time trying to instill in them an appropriate sense of cool. Niekro was annoyed in spring training when a player hit her first triple, steamed into third base, leaped into the air and hugged the third base coach. He called time and went out to tell her there’s no hugging in baseball.

And no apologizing.

“I’m sorry,” a fielder once told Niekro after she made an error.

“Did you make it on purpose?” he asked.

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“No.”

Then what are you apologizing for?”

“I’m sorry.”

A female reporter needles Niekro until he nearly loses his own cool. She gestures to where the women are warming up. Isn’t it all just a stunt, she suggests.

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Niekro bristles. “The game is the game,” he replies. “I wouldn’t be here if this was a sideshow. If they play the game the way it’s supposed to be played, you have to take them seriously.” (As he talks, an errant baseball rolls toward the reporters. A man in the group picks it up and tosses it, limp-wristed, to a Bullets pitcher. She catches it and laughs. “Gee,” she says, “You throw just like a guy.”)

The reporters are still crowding around Niekro and the Bullets when manager Ed Nottle of the Northern League All Stars steps into the visiting team’s dugout. He is 57, short, with a paunch. His skin is dark and leathery, his face a map of every 14-hour bus ride he’s endured, every case of beer he’s drunk during his one season in the majors and 37 years on baseball’s outer margins.

Nottle puts a foot on the top dugout step. A smile spreads across his features. He growls out a crude little song of his own creation: “The girls in Thunder Bay,” it begins, “are the easiest lay.” Behind him, his players shuffle into the dugout. They move stiffly, like a defeated army in retreat. The All Stars are mostly veterans, some ex-big leaguers, men in their 30s, muscular and fat, black and white, in mismatched uniforms, with tattooed biceps and shaved heads and little gold rings in their ears. They all stand and stare at the women in uniforms.

“Check out the third baseman,” says one. “Sweeeet. I never thought I’d want to kiss a third baseman.”

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The other players smile like Nottle--threatening, lascivious smiles--the smiles of a band of pirates who have stumbled across a land of unprotected maidens. They are all thinking the same thing, about doing what it is in the nature of pirates to do: rape, pillage and burn.

“We gonna put a hurtin’ on these broads.”

DURING THIS PAST WINTER, THE BULLETS HELD 13 TRYOUTS IN 11 CITIES. Candidates paid their own way to these tryouts, some of them held at 6 a.m., the only time the Bullets could rent a diamond. Almost 1,300 women showed up, 55 of whom were invited to the Bullets’ spring training camp in Orlando, Fla. Forty-nine showed up, and after eight weeks, the team was trimmed to 24.

The women are between the ages of 22 and 30. Each is unmarried; each gave up a job or school to join the team. All of them have had a love affair with baseball, or sports in general, since they were children. Just like boys--and with them--they played in Little League, Pony League and on co-ed high school teams. Unlike the boys, however, virtually every one was forced to quit baseball in her teens, trading it in for softball or turning to some other sport.

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Lee Anne Ketcham, 24, P, Birmingham, Ala., fell for baseball when she was 7 years old. “I was watching the ’77 World Series on a little black-and-white TV in my room,” she says. “Reggie Jackson hit three home runs.” Ketcham was the only girl on her hometown Little League team. She made the All Stars at 10 and dreamed of becoming a major leaguer. When she turned 12, the boys began to get bigger and stronger. “I knew (then) I couldn’t be a big leaguer. Besides, I was lonely being the only girl, even though the guys respected me.” She continued playing baseball in high school (“My coach was supportive,” she says) and fashioned a 12-5-6 record as a starting pitcher on an otherwise all-male team. After she graduated, she turned to softball, earning a scholarship to Oklahoma State University. Playing with women, she says, was “hard for me. They were too emotional. The guys pushed themselves more. They were disciplined.”

Shae Sloan, 22, P, Splendora, Tex., was so successful playing Dixie League, Pony League and high school baseball that Red Murf, the legendary baseball scout, invited her to a minor league tryout. He told her he wanted to be the first to have a female try out for a pro team. The 300 boys there were “standoffish at first,” then Sloan made a nice fielding play she considered easy. Sloan never expected to be signed. “I was honored,” she says, “but I didn’t think anything would come of it.” She, too, turned to softball for a college scholarship, although she didn’t like it: “It was too close, too fast-paced. Baseball is slower, smoother, a strength game. My roots are in baseball.”

On and on these stories go. Stacy Sunny, 28, C, Huntington Beach, a Little League all-star, hit .422 in Pony League play in 1980. Missy Coombes, 25, P, Arcadia, was a Little League star who pitched ahead of her contemporary, Tim Worrell, now with the San Diego Padres. She quit at 14, with a Pony League 11-1 record, because her high school coach made it known he wouldn’t allow her on his team. Charlotte Wiley, 25, DH, Teaneck, N.J., came from a family of eight older brothers. she was her team’s MVP in the Boys’ Bronco World Series in 1982 and later her high school team’s starting pitcher.

Getting to play baseball was never easy for these women. “When I was the first girl in Little League,” says Gina Satriano, 28, P, Malibu, “we got threatening calls. They burned a tree on our lawn. Guys quit the team. We filed lawsuits.” Satriano’s dad, Tom, played 10 years in the majors. Julie Croteau, 23, 1B, Manassas, Va., filed a lawsuit against her high school when she was refused a tryout for the team. “He (the coach) told me I was a bad child.” Croteau eventually became the first woman ever to play on an NCAA Division III men’s team, at St. Mary’s College in Maryland. Michele McAnany, 30, 2B, Culver City, another player whose dad was a big leaguer, gave up baseball for softball after sustaining a serious concussion in a Little League game when she was 13.

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Until they heard about the Bullets, Ketcham, Sloan, Sunny and virtually every other woman on the squad had long ago put baseball out of their minds. Ketcham, now a graduate student, hadn’t played hardball in six years. “As for baseball,” she says, “I thought maybe the next generation, my daughter.” Sloan, who just graduated from the University of Nebraska, assumed her softball career would end when she got her diploma. Others had exchanged sports for careers--Satriano was a deputy district attorney in Compton; Sunny was the production supervisor on “Rescue 911"; Coombes and McAnany were teachers. When they heard about the Bullets, though, they didn’t think twice about starting over. “We dropped our lives to play baseball,” McAnany says, “because we love it.”

Of all the opportunities Coors and Whittle handed the women, none was more surprising than the chance to compete against men. “I never thought they’d let us do it,” says Kim Braatz, 24, RF, Albuquerque, N.M. For a few of the women, it was the main reason to join the team. “If we weren’t playing against men, I wouldn’t have tried out,” says Sunny. “I want to show we can compete against them.” But most of the women see the battle of the sexes in milder terms. “I like being a pioneer in a male bastion,” says Satriano, “but that’s not my driving force. I love baseball.” Says Elizabeth Burnham, 23, C, Newbury, Vt.: “It’s neat (to play against men). But I’m not out to prove anything. I measure myself against the game, not men.”

Most of the Bullets are not afraid of playing baseball against men but are worried about working for them. They wonder if the men at Coors and Whittle are serious about women’s baseball. “I’m skeptical,” says Keri Kropke, 22, OF, Whittier, “but I can still go back to law school. Baseball will look good on my resume.” Wiley, the team’s only African American (fewer than 20 black women tried out for the team), sums up her teammates’ fears: “I worry this whole thing is bogus. That they just want to make money off us. The press treats us as a joke. They ask if we like boys. Do they ask Barry Bonds if he likes his third baseman?”

All the Bullets agree that it is Niekro’s dedication that reassures them. He is the consummate Bullets cheerleader. “What makes men so special on this earth that we can’t give women the opportunity to do the same things we do?” he asks with some irritation. “I want to see a woman in the minor leagues some day. I want to see little girls go to sporting goods stores to buy bats and gloves autographed by the Silver Bullets.”

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Niekro may seem an odd man to harbor such egalitarian feelings. He is 55, with thinning gray hair, saddlebags under his pale eyes. He grew to manhood in an era when most women were expected to stay at home. Niekro, points out one of his players, doesn’t even have daughters. But he does appreciate a solid chance.

Niekro pitched in the major leagues for 23 years, mostly with the Atlanta Braves. He won 318 games, the 14th-winningest pitcher in baseball history. Yet it took six seasons in the minor leagues before he made the majors. And he did it with a pitch--the erratic, uncontrollable knuckleball--that almost everyone advised him to abandon. No starting pitcher before Niekro had ever been as successful by relying solely on a knuckleball.

Still, even Niekro the pioneer can’t help being a tad paternalistic. “When I close my eyes,” sighs Wiley, “Phil sounds just like my daddy.” “He carries our bags,” says Sunny. “He asks us if the food is OK, did we get enough sleep, do we need anything?” “Phil and Joe (Joe Niekro, Phil’s brother, who won 221 big-league games, is the Bullets’ pitching coach) are like father figures,” says Ketcham.

“We were at a banquet with Phil and Joe,” says Sloan. “Phil told those people that he believed in us. Then Joe said this was the most fun he ever had in baseball, except for the every fifth day that he pitched.”

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“Every time Joe says that, it catches my heart,” says Bridget Venturi, 27, P, Highland Park, Ill. “They’re just like fathers to me.” She stops herself when she realizes the significance of what she’s said. “You know,” she shakes her head, “I’d never say that about a woman coach, that she was like a mother to me.”

THE BULLETS’ LAST WARM-UP GAME before their Mother’s Day season opener was played against the semipro Knoxville Braves at Bill Meyer Stadium, an old ballpark with gaudy blue wooden bleachers, a corrugated tin roof behind home plate and a red-brick factory building with broken windows beyond the left-field fence.

More than 5,000 fans, all rooting for the Bullets, showed up for the game. There were so many cars backed up to get into the park that one Whittle employee said it looked like “Field of Dreams.” Before the game, the Braves, men between the ages of 30 and 45, with bodies and talents as worn as Bill Meyer Stadium, were generous in their comments about the women they would be playing. Pitcher Larry Minor said, “I’m addicted to this game. If anyone has the same attitude, I’m all for them.” Shortstop Matt Bailey said: “I think this is great. I just don’t want to be the first guy to strike out.”

The team’s owner, Dr. Paul Rivard, a heavy-bellied surgeon, stood smiling in the dugout. “I was told,” he said, “if we lose, I’d better stay on I-40 after the game and not get off.”

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Rivard may still be on I-40. His Braves lost to the Bullets, 5-3. The Bullets played an almost flawless game in the field, making only one error. Their pitchers, Ketcham, Coombes and Lisa Martinez, held the Braves to only eight hits in seven innings. But the Bullets’ batting was their weakest link. They managed only a single hit but made it count.

It came in the second inning. Minor lost control. He walked three batters and hit one, Kropke, with a hanging curveball. Minor was so distraught that he ran off the mound as if he was going to enfold her in a comforting embrace. She waved him off and jogged to first. Sunny, the Bullets’ catcher, then lined a triple down the right-field line to empty the bases. When Sunny scored on an error, the Bullets had posted a five-run inning.

In practice, Sunny had already showed herself to be one of the Bullets’ brightest hopes. That night she had a career game, catching a difficult foul pop-up, pouncing on a swinging bunt and throwing the runner out at first, and blocking the plate to tag another runner sliding home. After the game, she told a TV reporter: “I feel real good about the way we played.”

Rivard didn’t share her attitude. When he and his players lined up to shake hands with each of the Bullets, his face was beet-red with rage. “How the hell,” he snapped, “could you predict our pitcher would walk four batters in one inning?”

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IN KNOXVILLE, THE BULLETS WERE entertained by their owners and sponsors at a pizza party held in the grassy outdoor courtyard of Whittle’s faux Williamsburg offices. The players sat at picnic tables, eating pizza, drinking Coors Light and signing Silver Bullets T-shirts and caps for several dozen Whittle employees who milled about curiously.

Niekro was there; so was Bob Hope--not the comedian but the president of Whittle Special Events--the man who conceived the Bullets. Genial, with a soft Southern drawl, Hope was a vice president of the Atlanta Braves in the ‘70s and was named Promoter of the Decade by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In 1985, he wanted to field a co-ed Class A minor league team of men and women. He applied for a franchise but was turned down.

“Baseball was incensed by the whole idea then,” says Hope, smiling. “But I remembered what Hank Aaron once said: ‘Somewhere, there’s a woman who can play second base in the big leagues.’ ”

Hope, who has two daughters, 18 and 22, whom he is so enamored of that he plastered the walls of his office with their photographs, put his idea on hold, waiting for baseball to catch up to his genius. Then, a year ago, Leo Kiely, president and CEO of Coors, contacted Whittle and asked them to come up with a mainstream sport to help market Coors beers.

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“Leo wanted something that changed the way sports looks at itself,"says Hope. “I gave him six ideas, among them a women’s baseball team, and he loved it.”

Kiely was enthralled with Hope’s idea. “We’re gonna win the marketing-concept-of-the-year award!” he told Hope, who countered: “Hell, we’re gonna win the Nobel Prize for bringing the world closer together!”

Hope and Niekro agree that the current Bullets are probably not the best women baseball players in the country. They are the best available to them now--the ones willing to take a chance in their lives. Some of the best women players are under 21, so they can’t legally play for the beer-sponsored Bullets, and many are preparing for the ’96 Olympics and won’t be available until after that event.

“The women we have are pioneers,” says Hope. “They are taking a chance in the wilderness--building a fort others can come to live in.”

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Hope says they will survive only if they are not continually embarrassed by men’s teams and, of course, if they help Coors and Whittle turn a profit. “Of course we plan on making money off of this,” says Hope. “As does Coors. This is the first team created to market a concept.”

But it remains to be seen just how well Whittle and Coors actually get that concept. Their promotional efforts have included bar trips, where the team can sign autographs and, by osmosis, plug Coors beers. For one of them, the Bullets boarded the team bus with family members, coaches and a Japanese film crew and took a 40-minute ride over back roads to the Good Times Lake Club in rural South Carolina. Several Harleys were parked in front--"Not a good sign,” someone told Niekro.

Inside, the club was dark-paneled, low ceilinged and filled with slot machines. Seated at the bar were a handful of patrons wearing long mountain-man beards and lots of keys dangling from their belt loops. A barmaid dressed in a black bustier, see-through harem pants and gold lame panties had a butterfly tattoo over her breast.

The camera crew immediately turned on their strobe lights and began filming the scene. Just as quickly, the bar’s patrons raised their hands to shield their faces. Niekro was livid. He stormed outside. “I felt like running my arm down the bar to knock over every drink,” he said later. Instead, he rounded up his players and left.

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The following morning, he was still furious. “That’s not the image I want to project with my players,” he seethed and threatened to quit if Coors made them go to one more bar. Coors conceded.

“Would I have stayed there if I was with a men’s team?” Niekro considered the question. “Hell, yes,” he said.

ON MOTHER’S DAY, AS THE first pitch gets closer and closer, Niekro begins to hedge his bets. The All Stars will be tough, he says. He has already told some reporters that he thinks the team is full of ringers: “Those guys didn’t even play in the Northern League last year, so how could they be All Stars?”

When the men first arrived at the stadium, they discovered that the home locker room was off limits and that the women had taken control of the visitors’ digs. They wandered around until they found a hand-printed sign: “Northern League All Star Locker.” Underneath, a more permanent sign read “Men’s Lounge.” It was the concessionaire’s bathroom. Manager Nottle, who is at least as paternalistic about his players as Niekro, was not amused.

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“One toilet! One shower!” he screamed, hurling obscenities. “I hate this whole situation. Every time they add another indignity, I want you to get another run.”

But when the media finally pick out a few All Stars to interview, they try to be polite. Dennis (Oil Can) Boyd, 35, for instance, who once played for the Red Sox, is a skinny black man with a goatee and lots of jewelry. “I got no beef they get special accommodations,” Boyd tells a reporter, referring to the fact that the Bullets are staying in a chichi hotel while the Stars are staying at a Days Inn motel. “Let the girls sleep good and eat good. We’re men, we don’t care if we eat. They gonna find out . . . . We eat baseball. If we lose? If we lose, we put on a dress and leave town in disguise.” Back in the dugout, when the teams take the field, Boyd is suddenly less polite. “We gotta kill these bitches,” he says.

“What if one of them gets hit in the chest?” asks one of his teammates.

“Tell ‘em not to rub it,” says Mike Curtis, 32, one of the team’s pitchers. “Let me.”

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The All Stars bat first against the Bullets’ Ketcham, scoring three runs in the top of the first inning. When the Bullets’ left fielder catches a long fly ball to retire the Stars, one of the men says, “Nice catch.”

Nottle turns on him, furious. “That was a routine play,” he snarls. “That’s what I hate about playing women. They belong in the kitchen. That’s what we have kitchens for.”

Boyd warms up on the mound with a big, long-limbed delivery. Then he glares down at the Bullets’ first batter, Michele McAnany. She rips his first fastball on a line over second base. The Stars’ second baseman leaps, but the ball tips off his glove for a single. In the dugout, Nottle curses.

But Boyd retires the side after that hit. When he returns to the dugout, he is smiling. “My stuff’s so sore,” he says ruefully, “I can’t get a woman out. I’m gonna be on TV. They gonna beam it to all the planets. Show a woman ripping my stuff on Venus.”

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The Stars score two quick runs in the second; then it’s Leon (Bull) Durham’s turn to bat. Durham is 37 and overweight. He lumbers toward the plate like a Stone Age savage, dragging his bat in the dirt behind him. He mutters, “I gotta do what I gotta do.” He hits a Ketcham fastball on a rising line toward right field and stands at the plate to watch it. The ball keeps rising, over the 350-foot right-field fence and beyond.

The fans are shocked into silence. Before the inning is over, the Stars have scored five more runs and Nottle has begun to relax. He tells his team to let up on the Bullets. “You guys can make an out now and then,” he says. “So we can go drink some beer.”

But the Stars can only do what is in their nature to do. Durham hits another towering home run. Then ex-big leaguer Carl Nichols follows suit. The Bullets begin to fall apart in the field. They make six errors by the end of the game, a 19-0 rout. By then, most of the 8,100 fans have already left, and Nottle stands at the top of his dugout. “You wanna play with the boys,” he announces in the general direction of the Bullets, “you gonna play with the boys.”

“Do we have to shake hands with them now, Ed?” asks one of the Stars.

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“Or do we play real baseball, you mean?” says Nottle.

But the Stars do want to shake the Bullets’ hands. The women, however, are across the field, signing autographs. The Stars stand around their dugout, looking lost.

“What are we supposed to do, Ed?”

“Let’s go drink beer.”

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Most of the Stars follow Nottle back to the locker room, and the Bullets ignore the few who remain. It’s not payback--the women have been well out of earshot of the men’s vituperation; it’s just that for the Bullets right now, shaking hands with the All Stars is beside the point.

“It’s like they used us,” says one of the men, plaintively. “Now they don’t need us.”

Unbelievably, on the other side of the field, most of the Bullets are smiling, happy, as if this wonderful occasion couldn’t be marred merely by the terrible result of the game. A few of them, however, are ashen-faced. Catcher Sunny and pitcher Ketcham look stunned. Niekro looks stunned, too. As he is being interviewed, Niekro raises his hand to make a point, but it is shaking so badly that he puts it back down.

Inside the men’s lounge, the Stars’ are, for once, silent. No one is celebrating. The players undress and sip from cans of beer. They look stunned, too, and ashamed, as if they have just been a party to something that has left them feeling dirty.

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THE NIGHT BEFORE THE Bullets-All Stars blowout, Michele McAnany’s dad, Jim, had been sitting at the outdoor bar of the Park Hotel, watching the players celebrate the upcoming opener. When one young woman walked past him, he wished her good luck. “Thanks,” she replied. A man nearby added: “And don’t get hurt.” The player glared back. “What do you mean by that?” “I mean,” he shrugged, “don’t get hurt.”

“They don’t understand what’s happening here,” McAnany’s dad said, after the player had walked on. “Those guys, the All Stars are gonna be out for blood.”

Jim McAnany is a round, sweet-natured man in his late 50s. It’s hard to picture him as a slim outfielder for the White Sox 35 years ago.

“I can’t say I wanted Michy to play baseball,” McAnany says. “I told her if she decided to do this and it gets difficult, she can’t quit. You know, Michy’s as good an infielder as I’ve ever seen in my life. But from a physical standpoint, I don’t think she can play against men.”

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One month and 10 games later, the Silver Bullets still haven’t done much to prove Jim McAnany wrong. Except for one win against the Richfield Rockets in St. Paul, they have lost every game they’ve played. But they have also heeded McAnany’s injunction to his daughter: No one is quitting, and that includes Coors and Whittle.

“We are very pleased,” said Bob Hope in early June, not a hint of condescension in his voice. “The Bullets have been very competitive over the last two games.” Against the Men of the Mountain in Asheville, N.C., and Sioux Falls’ Circus Sports Bar, the Bullets lost in low-scoring games by one run only. “The girls are down, but they don’t realize how much they’ve improved,” Hope added. “Attendance is averaging 5,000 a game, and we expect Coors to pick up its option for next year.”

But how about that 19-0 score? “We have to find the women’s level of competition,” Hope says evenly. And what he means is this: A few days after Mother’s Day, the Colorado Silver Bullets made a quiet announcement. Five games would be removed from the 1994 calendar--those scheduled against the Northern League All Stars.


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