LAKEWOOD — Spikes scrape in the concrete dugout at Mayfair Park as the 5 p.m. double-header nears. Hands reach for sunflower seeds, bubble gum and metal bats. The center fielder, whose fingernails are painted red, brushes her hair and says that a guy in the stands is " not my boyfriend." The third baseman straps a brace over a knee, in which something is wrong, but nobody's going to fix it because "I don't want any big scars." And a pitcher is distressed to discover that she won't be pitching in a few minutes.
These are the Cal State Long Beach 49ers, the 13th-ranked team in the nation in Division 1 college softball. In their five-year existence, it is the highest they have risen.
Coach Pete Manarino, a tanned man in a gold-hooded sweat shirt, has decided that Diane Lewis, who had expected to pitch the opener against UC Santa Barbara, will not pitch until the second game. But he has not told her. She has found out from teammates.
"He does not communicate," Lewis complains. "You mentally prepare yourself and what good does it do? I told half my family to be here for the first game."
The 49ers, in white shirts and brown pants, line up for pregame grounders that Manarino hits sharply to them. They field the balls smoothly, professionally, not even flinching at the short, wicked hops.
The first game, like almost every one in fast-pitch softball, is a pitcher's battle. A combination of blurry fastballs, mean up-shoots and drops and elusive curves and change-ups keeps batting averages anemic.
In the fifth inning, with the lights on and the hundred or so fans trying to stay warm under blankets, the 49ers lead, 1-0. But Santa Barbara has a runner on first base.
"Possible steal," Manarino yells from the dugout.
On the next pitch the runner breaks for second. The catcher throws but the shortstop is late getting to the bag. The ball bounds into the outfield--where the grass is so recently cut that the mower's tracks are still fresh--toward center fielder Cissy Rothfuss. It bounces over her glove and rolls toward the distant fence, where balls seldom go during these games. The runner scores easily to tie the game.
"Christ, I just got done talking about it," Manarino says.
Rothfuss, whose blond hair sits piled atop her visor, slams her glove down when she returns to the dugout. She wants to know, "Did he (Manarino) say anything bad about me," then says, "I don't know what it (the ball) hit." She sits alone, staring at the seed-littered floor, depression over the rare error setting in for this free spirit from Anaheim Hills, who lists among her feats this season gambling the night away after a game in Las Vegas.
Rothfuss' teammates, leaning over the fence that runs along the top step of the dugout, chanting organized cheers in the tradition of women's softball. When third baseman Nancy Graham gets a hit, they scream, "Nancy all right. Nancy all right, whoop, whoop yeah." For accompaniment, they bang balls and bats against the dugout's corrugated metal roof, creating a a rhythmic racket that they hope will be as unnerving to Santa Barbara as their constant chants of "rattle, rattle."
Rothfuss takes a piece of bubble gum, discarding the waxed wrapper only after she has read the funnies printed on it, and waits for her moment of redemption.
It comes in the last of the seventh inning. She leads off with a single. "Cissy all right, Cissy all right. whoop, yeah."
In the dugout, Lewis, the most exuberant cheerleader, says, "If I knew I was pitching the second game, I'd have ate," and goes to find her mother. She returns with a fast food restaurant's children's meal. Out of it she fishes a blue toy motorcycle and gives it to Sue Trubovitz, who plays with it.
Trubovitz, who will catch the second game, is a junior catcher from Huntington Beach who has brown hair as short as a boy's, with a tail down the neck. Still, it is much longer than last year, when she had a Mohawk.
Rothfuss is on second now and there are two outs. Manarino calls for Trubovitz to pinch-hit. She puts the toy away and runs to the plate. Angry because she thinks the pitcher is smirking at her, she lines a single. Rothfuss scores and the 49ers win, 2-1.
The umpire walks past the 49er celebration and tells Manarino that Trubovitz better take her jewelry off before the second game. Manarino tells her.
"How can these hurt me?" Trubovitz says as she fingers the thin gold hoops in her earlobes. As Lewis works to remove them, Trubovitz says: "Pitchers shouldn't laugh before they throw the ball. I thought, 'She can't throw it by me.' Ouch, don't take skin."
The earrings removed, Lewis and Trubovitz, the battery for the second game, prepare to warm up.
"She's the first person I ever met who likes to win more than me," Lewis says.
Manarino is 32, has a trim build and dark, Italian good looks. He is in his third year at Cal State Long Beach. Previously, he coached girls softball at St. Joseph's High School in Lakewood where his five-year record was 124-16.