Forty years have passed, but they are still in a League of Their Own. The sight of women on the grass at Fenway Park seems as foreign today as it did when they wore skirts and high socks in the 1950s.
But one can see why the popularity of the all-female Colorado Silver Bullets is growing as they criss-cross America and Canada, making a statement that is much stronger than the movie of the same name. Their 6-0 loss to the Boston Park League All-Stars yesterday was not unexpected. What was surprising was that 5,200 went home convinced they’d been a part of history.
Can this be a glimpse into the future of major league baseball?
“Some people think we are a sideshow,” said third baseman Shannan Mitchem, who got the Bullets’ only hit in the seven-inning game. “But if they do, they’re ignorant. They need to come out and see us play.
“There’s the movie and there is real life. We’re trail blazers. Our road schedule is tougher than any major league team goes through. They may be 10 days on the road, but they get to go home. We never go home. It’s all worth it.”
The Silver Bullets are not a sideshow. They also aren’t a very good baseball team. But they are a group of women eager to pick up the banner that was carried by women professionals into the 1950s.
This was their 30th game, and not a very good one to watch. The Bullets’ 3-27 record against various men’s pro and semipro teams is no accident. You have to look deeper to find what they’re really all about. The fans, many of whom hung around for an hour to get autographs, did.
For the Fenway Faithful, this was a new experience. They held their breath on every ball thrown across the infield and cheered the routine putouts. They marveled at a left fielder named Keri Kropke, who made two catches that Mike Greenwell might not have. When Lee Anne Ketcham took the mound in the third and struck out two straight batters on curveballs, the crowd went wild.
“I admit we may have been surprised by the kind of support we were getting early,” said pitcher Gina Satriano, whose father, Tom, played for the Red Sox in 1969 and 1970. “But we’ve discovered a passion that is so alive in people. They want to see women play baseball, and they want to see women succeed.”
The popularity of the Girls of Summer is growing. When they’re not playing, they’re speaking about success and women, not necessarily in that order. They say the things they think both men and women need to understand — that the differences in the sexes is not all that great.
“There are a lot of women who looked back and wished they had an opportunity like this,” said Satriano. “There are now a lot of young girls, but now they have somewhere to go; come to baseball and not just stay with softball. There a lot of men who are just excited to see women play at our talent level.”
One man who seems to understand what this is all about is Phil Niekro, a 300-game winner in 24 major league seasons and manager of the Silver Bullets.
“We know we don’t have the best athletes,” said Niekro, “but we do have the best club we could put together coming out of our spring training. One thing you have to understand is that these women don’t want any favors.
“This is like an expansion team, only most of them have never played baseball. For most of them, this is all new. But with their acceptance this year, we might get the better athletes next year when we’ll be back.
“They’re not ready for the majors. But I can see a woman playing in the minors, and I don’t think it will be in the distant future. You’re going to see a player who is as good as some of the guys that are signed in the minor league system.”
Yesterday the Silver Bullets played in their fifth major league park. “We’re halfway through the season,” said Niekro, “And have made 46 plane trips. We started with 180 pieces of luggage. We’re down to 70-80. We don’t have a chance to practice, much. Our practice days are our travel days.”
Yet the Girls of Summer are having fun.
“Today was terrific,” said Satriano, who has pitched in three of the five major league parks and was in the Red Sox bullpen yesterday. “I was down there thinking, man, my father must have spent hours, days and months in this bullpen. Here I am throwing in the same place where he caught. It’s a thrill just to be back. All I recall is running around the stands when I was about 4.”
What the Bullets had hoped for was another victory by Lisa Martinez, who throws underhand and pitched a no-hitter earlier this year. She left in the third inning and was charged with four of the Park League’s six runs. Later, it got a little rough. Second baseman Stacy Sunny got hit by a pitcher from Mike Carista, a one-time Red Sox farmhand. Sunny suffered a deep bruise on her right shoulder.
“We’ve been hit before,” said Niekro. “They know it’s coming. They’ve been knocked down at home plate, taken out on double plays, run over because they were in the base paths. They’ve been through it all. They don’t bitch. They don’t cry. They know that’s what the game is about.”
The women know the game’s ups and downs. But you’d be hard-pressed to find one who would want to return to her offseason job.
“I don’t know any professional team that does this,” said Kropke, “let alone 20-24 people who never played day in and day out. We’ve got a lot of challenges, but it’s rewarding.”
Satriano is on leave from the Los Angeles County prosecutor’s office that is handling the O.J. Simpson case.
“They were very supportive of this whole project,” she said. “I’ll do this as long as I can. It’s thrilling to be a part of baseball.”
Copyright © 1994 Boston Globe, all rights reserved. Written by Larry Whiteside.