Bats Out Of Hell

Your coach awaits

I'll admit that our love for a sport that refuses us makes little sense, at least under the rubric of contemporary gender politics. But what disenfranchised people ever earned their invitation to the dance by refusing to learn the steps? Women and minorities didn't rail against elections—they battled for voting rights until they got them. Mia Hamm didn't take her ball and go home—she knocked heads on the field and won a world championship. The WNBA wasn't born because women hated hoops, but because the bigwigs were finally convinced it was time we got game.

The quest for dignity and a place on the team has been waged anew in each generation. Black players who were once denied a spot on the field are now demanding their rightful positions in management. Japanese athletes were once considered too tiny to hold their own, but pitchers like the Mets' Masato Yoshii are now commonplace.

Girls used to be thought too frail for full-court basketball, but today they play full-contact rugby. They skate with men's hockey teams and win gold medals of their own. They race across lacrosse fields and square off in boxing matches.

But when it comes to bats and mitts, they're either confined to softball or converted into barnstorming, sexed-up sideshows like the Colorado Silver Bullets, a female pro team.

If Major League Baseball invested half as much money in coaching girls as it spends on self-congratulatory commercials, the game would take its first halting steps toward gender equity. Tell me Theresa Weatherspoon couldn't have learned to line a throw to first the same way she learned to fire a bullet pass into the paint. Try arguing that Brianna Scurry couldn't block a wild pitch the same way she denied China's penalty kicks in the battle for the World Cup. Shunting female athletes into second-rate softball makes a mockery of one of baseball's brightest virtues—that you don't have to be built like Atlas in order to play.

This logic has never taken hold with baseball's brass. Barred from the game, generations of American tomboys have had to face the great divide of puberty, when they figure out they won't wear the long pants with stirrup socks that look so classic on their brothers.

"You probably realize it when you're about 10 or 11, that you're never going to play," said Colleen Rizzo of Westchester, standing on line for hot dogs with her grade-school daughter. Rizzo, like so many other women, has made her peace—however tenuous—with her place in the bleachers. "I think it's just the fun of the game," she said, explaining why she's still a fan. "There are plenty of men who love it just for the fun of the game, and they'll never play, just because they can't."

Yet women have not quit hoping that the gains female athletes have made in other sports will crack open the door to baseball. "Things have their own time for changing," said Jane Maguire, a Brooklynite waiting outside Shea for her two sisters to arrive. "You can't push it along. It'll happen."

When it does, we'll be there.

Bums Rush
Forget the tight pennant race. Focus on the tight baseball pants.

by Stacy Albin

Kathy Lange doesn't have an ordinary view of the diamond at Shea Stadium. She has the view. Her season tickets plant her between home plate and third base, the perfect spot to score an eyeful of action.

We're not talking about balls and strikes. We're talking about tight pants whenever one of the Mets' right-handed batters assume the position over home plate. Lange, a faithful Met fan since her dad first took her to games in the '60s, keeps an eye on the men in uniform.

"Nice ass," she says. Well, big surprise. Eight weeks of spring training has been known to whip many an ass into shape—unless, of course, we're referring to behavior. But this is not about Darryl Strawberry or Vince Coleman. An informal poll taken outside Shea last week revealed Robin Ventura, Rey Ordonez and Mike Piazza are the favorite hunks. Some fans claimed they have two honeys in the bullpen.

For Lange, however, No. 31 is No. 1.

"There's just something about Piazza," says Lange, 32, who lives in Wantagh. "He keeps the team going and he loves the sport. "He's just got that rugged, but boyish, look." She first noticed him when he played for the Dodgers, so she picked up a Dodgers shirt and Piazza's autograph. Not that these souvenirs would look quite right on a shelf next to her Mr. Met doll, a memento she saved from childhood. Last year, though, she took a bigger step: To wish Piazza a happy birthday, she sent a $50 bouquet of wildflowers to him at Shea. She recalls the message on the card: "Mike: You're the greatest. Love, Kathy."

If that's first base, a fan named Diana is considering stealing second base with Piazza: She says she's planning on sending him an eight-foot-tall poster of her in a bikini. "I might have the equipment," speculates Diana. She's thinking of busting another move: taking off her clothes and painting M-E-T-S across her privates.

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