QUINCY, Ill. — There is a championship to be won here this weekend, and Barbara Jordan, Cal State Northridge's menace with a cause, is ready to create havoc.
Jordan, a senior, will play center field and bat leadoff for Northridge in the NCAA Division II softball tournament beginning today and ending Sunday. If all goes well, she'll get some hits, steal a couple of bases, make a diving catch or two, stare down a few opponents, mouth off to at least one umpire and leave in a stained and dusty uniform clutching a first-place trophy. Should her college career end any other way?
Sending Jordan out to play in a game with 17 generally mild-mannered college girls is like turning Rambo loose in a Cub Scout troop. She is a three-time All-American whose actions do not always befit the title. Her own coach describes her as "gnarly."
But no one questions Jordan's mettle. They question her manners. She is, perhaps, the least-liked yet most respected women's softball player in the nation.
"She's an intimidator," CSUN Coach Gary Torgeson says. "If your foot is there, she'll step on it. That's the way she is."
Jordan will do just about anything to gain the upper hand during a game. She impedes a catcher's path to a bunt by flipping her bat backward. On close--and sometimes not-so-close--plays at first, she steamrolls past the bag with such force that she has, on occasion, spun a first baseman in a circle.
"I hate to get out," she says. "Getting on base is my job and I do it any way I can."
Jordan, 21, may be somewhat of a rogue, but she can come across quite innocently when she looks you straight in the face with her large, hazel eyes and says, "Sometimes I just get out of control and I don't know what I'm doing."
Case in point: In the West regional tournament last Friday in Sacramento, Jordan was called out on a close play. She jumped up, pointed emphatically at the umpire and screamed something to the effect that she disagreed with the call.
"When I got back in the dugout, they said, 'Don't point like that at the umpire,' " Jordan recalled. "I said, 'Point?' I didn't point . . . Did I?' "
And that's not all she did.
After Northridge rallied to go ahead in Saturday's championship game, she ran onto the field with a bat and led the CSUN fans in a cheer. Jordan punctuated her performance by using the bat handle to beat the smithereens out of the chain link fence behind home plate. All of this took place while the opposing coach was about 50 feet away, making a pitching change.
"I was so happy we scored I just had to go do that," Jordan says. "It was a little too much excitement for me to keep inside."
Jordan's outburst earned the Northridge team a warning from the home plate umpire, but Torgeson called the incident harmless. "That's part of her personality," he says with a shrug. "She's an intense person and sometimes it all spills over."
Northridge second baseman Kim Bernstein, who has known her for seven years, says Jordan, for all her boisterous behavior afield, is "very thoughtful and will go out of her way to help a person," but "when she steps on the field she has a whole new attitude, a whole new look. There's a fire in her eyes."
Alan Segal, a Sacramento assistant coach, said opponents have come to expect such emotional displays from Jordan.
"She's cocky and some of her stuff borders on unsportsmanlike, but that's the emotional roller coaster they play," Segal says. "Northridge needs that kind of thing to stay up and play their best. She's their spark. She gets the players up and the crowd going."
Northridge administrators are sometimes not as understanding. "I've been told on a number of occasions to keep Barbara Jordan in the dugout," Torgeson says.
But that is easier said than done. Supervising Jordan is no simple task.
She has been known to pilfer a poster from a restaurant and sneak it into the team's hotel--Torgeson caught her in the act. She was also caught playing in a sorority basketball game only minutes after being warned not to participate by Torgeson, who was afraid she might injure herself.
"Barbara is a natural, whether it's playing softball or getting into trouble," Torgeson says. "She's a great player, but she can be a real pain in the butt sometimes."
Says Jordan: "If there's trouble, I usually find it. I'm curious, I guess. And I like to have fun."
She is mischievous, but not malicious.
"I don't know how people see me, but I hope it's in a good, competitive way," Jordan says. "It bothers me sometimes that people might think I'm a bad person. I'm really a nice person. It's just that I'm very competitive."
Her spirit was instilled as a youngster growing up in Northridge, the second youngest of Elmer and Gloria Jordan's five children. There were 35 children living in the 14 homes on Tulsa Street--most of them older boys--and Barbara Jordan played as roughly and as toughly as any.