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Golden Oldie

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Father Time is pulling on her ponytail but Sheila Cornell Douty doesn’t seem to notice.

She is still hitting screwballs out of the yard with a swift, jack-hammer swing and driving in runs at about the same rate as she always has in her illustrious 27-year career.

Cornell Douty, a power-hitting first baseman who grew up playing softball at Shoup Park in Woodland Hills and graduated from Taft High in 1980, will be 38 when she suits up next fall in Sydney for a second Olympic Games with the U.S. team.

While this region has produced bushels of top-notch players over the years, none can compare to Cornell Douty, an Olympic gold medalist and 11-time Amateur Softball Assn. All-American who seems to improve with age.

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She is a rarity among women’s sports phenoms--old enough to be considered a softball pioneer and young enough to compete at the highest level.

Without a softball idol to model her game after in the mid-1970s, Cornell Douty looked elsewhere and found Dodger first baseman Steve Garvey.

“I knew it was never going to happen but that’s who I wanted to be,” she said.

She didn’t become a baseball hero, but she certainly is softball’s equivalent.

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The 5-foot-10 UCLA graduate who has a master’s degree from USC deserves a doctorate in softball.

She has participated in seven U.S. Olympic Festivals, a half dozen Pan American Games and led UCLA to NCAA titles in 1982 and ’84. Twice she led the ASA women’s major division in home runs. Her gold medals and titles from national and international competition are too many to count and her game-winning hits too many to mention.

She is nearly ready to hang up her spikes, yet Olympic Coach Ralph Raymond still considers her one of the best clutch hitters in the game.

“She is what I call quiet thunder,” Raymond said in 1996. “She comes in, does her job, day in and day out. She’s not looking for headlines. She just wants to be part of the ballclub.”

For all her accomplishments and world travels in softball, Cornell Douty most treasures the Olympic experience.

And it’s easy to understand why.

In the Atlanta Games in 1996, Cornell Douty batted .393 with a team-high 11 hits and nine runs batted in.

Her two-run home run against China in a 3-2 victory put the U.S. in the medal round. Against China in the next game, Cornell Douty’s bases-loaded single in the bottom of the 10th of a scoreless tie sent Team USA into the gold-medal game.

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"[It was] absolutely the most incredible, most exciting event I’ve ever been involved with,” Cornell Douty said.

It was an experience she hopes to recapture in Sydney. If you think she’s less excited than she was in 1996, think again.

“It’s still the ultimate in sports and I don’t think that changes from Olympics to Olympics,” she said.

While Cornell Douty continues to excel well into her 30s, she is confident this will be her last hurrah. Perhaps the bookend on a certain Hall of Fame career.

She’s ready to step aside and leave the year-round training, barnstorming tours, personal appearances and clinics to someone with more energy and something to prove.

“It’s getting harder and harder training all the time,” she said.

She also wants to spend more time at home in Diamond Bar with her husband of three years, Joel Douty, and his three teenage children.

But walking away from the game won’t be easy for someone who has been swinging a bat for nearly three decades.

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“Ever since it was announced in 1996 that softball was going to be an Olympic sport, a lot more countries have been interested,” she said. “So the competition is getting better and better and better.

“And when you’re playing the best in the world, that’s what makes it all worthwhile.”


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