The blow struck for women’s sports by the hyper-success of the Women’s World Cup is now being felt in other arenas— including the national pastime. Using the momentum generated by the U.S. team’s soccer win, several grassroots groups have begun to lay the groundwork for making women’s baseball an Olympic sport in 2004, while seeking financial support for a professional league.
According to the American Women’s Baseball League— which runs tournaments across the country and acts as the sport’s unofficial lobbying group— regional leagues are already in operation in several states. One league, the Washington (D.C.) Women’s Baseball League (WWBL) has been in existence since the early ’90s, and several others— including the New York/New Jersey Regional Women’s Baseball League (NY/NJ RWBL) and the Women’s New England Baseball League (WNEBL)— have started play this summer. The goal, organizers say, is to groom female players (mostly converted softball players) for professional and/or Olympic competition. The challenge has been getting funding. The Silver Bullets, for instance— a barnstorming women’s squad— disbanded last year after sponsor Coors decided to withdraw its support.
None of the players in these start-up leagues currently receive any money for their efforts. But WNEBL founder Chris Lindeborg and her friend Jerry Dawson— a former minor league ballplayer— have a long-term plan for forming a national women’s pro league. It would pay players $20,000 to $30,000 a year— roughly the equivalent of a male player playing Class A ball. They see their current four-team league as a training ground for the Boston franchise in their proposed league. They have already entered discussions with investors in several cities, including Detroit, Chicago, and Cleveland. For now their league is playing a 12-game season in suburban Boston.
The WNEBL’s biggest sponsor is Kansas City Royal pitcher Kevin Appier, whose sister Jeri is an outfielder with the league’s Boston Blitz. To date, however, Major League Baseball itself has yet to offer any financial support to the women’s leagues. And neither the Mets nor the Yankees have responded to sponsorship inquiries from Veronica Geyer, founder of the NY/NJ RWBL. Both Geyer and Lindeborg say the best way to gain support is to keep playing. To that end they have scheduled an all-star game between their two leagues for August 28 on Cape Cod.
Last weekend’s Gotham Cup, won by Italy’s Serie A powerhouse Fiorentina, would have easily put at least 50,000 fannies in the seats of Giants Stadium if advertising for the inaugural four-team soccer tourney hadn’t been virtually nonexistent.
“We heard about it at home,” said an Aston Villa fan from England, who added he’d heard nothing of it during his visit here. Those with their ears to the grass— about 25,000— were treated to a preseason
battle of some of the world’s most renowned clubs.
Once top of the heap, but finishing bottom of the pile, was Ajax of Amsterdam (who lost both its games, including the consolation match with the Greek club Panathinaikos, 3-2). Hampered by the continual loss of key players over the years— including Jari Litmanen, Edgar Davids, Marc Overmars, and last year’s de Boer debacle that sent both brothers (Frank and Ronald) to Barcelona— the Dutch side needs help. Forward Benedict “Benni” McCarthy was expected to make the big trip to the Big Apple, but was rumored to be feeling ill (sort of an ongoing condition since Ajax signed upstart Greek striker Nikos Machlas for a record transfer sum of $8.8 million). The 21-year-old South African seemed to recover just fine, signing with Celta Vigo of Spain Saturday for a fee of $6.31 million while his now-former teammates were checking out the top of the Empire State Building.
Laughter appeared to be the best medicine for ailing Aston Villa keeper David James. “You still want to talk to me after that match?” he joked after allowing four goals in his team’s 4-0 final loss to Fiorentina. James, an Armani model, did manage to stop a penalty kick in Villa’s opening win over Ajax.
Argentine maestro Gabriel “Bati-gol” Batistuta was a Bati-bore in Friday’s game against Panathinaikos, contributing nothing to a 3-0 Italian-team victory. But he came back and gave fans what they wanted—
two Fiorentina goals— in the final. The other two came courtesy of Serb Predrag Mijatovic— who delivered the goal of the tournament— and Argentine Rui Costa.
Quote Of The Week
“I don’t think women should be refereeing our games. Maybe Women’s World Cup. . . . ”
— MetroStars striker Eduardo Hurtado groping around for an excuse after his club’s latest loss, this time to the Miami Fusion. The lone goal in the game came on a free kick set up by a foul call by veteran official Sandra Hunt.
Contributors: Brian P. Dunleavy, Denise Kiernan, Andrew Hsiao
Sports Intern: Joshua D. Gaynor
Sports Editor: Miles D. Seligman