UCLA softball player Yvonne Gutierrez's idea of hell would probably be to spend eternity in a public speaking class.
Gutierrez, a sophomore center fielder who leads the Bruins in hitting, seems to have taken to heart what her mother told her about not talking--or at least not very much--tostrangers.
In an interview, words drop as slowly from her lips as water in that well-known form of Chinese torture.
She apparently believes that actions speak louder than words, and why not? Her actions on the softball field could make for a book or two.
Lou Lichtl, her softball coach at Culver City High School, likes to tell a story that reveals how Gutierrez is able to take the proper action.
In the championship game of a high school tournament, the story goes, Gutierrez came up with the bases loaded and was crestfallen when she popped up.
But she didn't stay that way. In the sixth inning of that game, she came up again with the bases full, and her bat spoke loudly and with eloquence.
A left-handed thrower and batter, she cleared the right field fence with a wallop that traveled more than 225 feet, landed on the boulevard and kept bouncing. According to legend, the ball even outraced a couple of cars.
That mighty blow helped her team to victory against a tough team in an important tournament. A most appropriate action, much better than a cutting remark to an opponent.
"There wasn't anything that she did improperly," Lichtl said, noting that she was twice the most valuable player in the Ocean League when she was at Culver High, twice an All-CIF Southern Section selection.
"She would stretch doubles into triples and slide headfirst into third. Everything she did was professional. As long as she had an at-bat left, I felt that we had a chance to win a ballgame."
Culver City's chances seemed to dwindle when Gutierrez wasn't in the lineup. In her senior season, she missed a few games because of a separated shoulder, and the Centaurs started losing and slipping in the league standings.
When Gutierrez returned, the Centaurs found they had to win the rest of their games to take the league title, and Gutierrez apparently liked the long odds.
She hit .667 the rest of the way, leading her team to victory after victory. In the final league game, she had a four-for-four day, and Culver routed its opponent to wrap up the league championship.
In her two years with UCLA, she has kept up the chatter--with her glove, feet and, especially, with her bat. As a freshman she batted .314, and as the week began, she was batting .378 with four triples, four doubles and 21 runs batted in, second to junior Missy Phillips' 28 RBIs.
She and a mix of veterans and top freshmen are giving UCLA Coach Sharron Backus an inkling that the Bruins, who won five NCAA championship in the 1980s--including the last two--may be able to do it again. At the start of the week, UCLA was 50-5 overall and 13-1 in the Pacific 10 Conference and appeared to be right on track.
Gutierrez is used to being a winner. She played summer softball for four years for the California Raiders, who won three of four American Softball Assn. national titles in the age 18 and younger category during that span. The year they didn't win the title, they finished third.
Backus said that she gives much of the credit for her players' abilities and winning attitudes to "their ASA experiences. The association has a number of coaches who have outstanding programs."
"Yvonne (who was coached on the Raiders by Phil Bruder) is an example," Backus said. "You've got to have quality and ingredients (to play the game). Yvonne had it going in, I think, and (the ASA) put her into an environment to let it grow."
She said that coaches often resort to cliches to describe players, but sometimes it's the only way to capture their essence. Gutierrez, she said, is like "quiet thunder. She doesn't play with charisma, but in a controlled manner."
"Like a volcano, she can erupt (in a fit of temper)," Backus said. "Because of her character, she never does, but the strength and the power are there."
Instead of being vocal, Gutierrez exerts "leadership in a quiet kind of way. She does it by demonstration, and, believe me, the older I get, the more I appreciate that," said Backus, in her 15th season at UCLA.
She said that people generally assume that a girl as tall as Gutierrez (5 feet, 9 inches) is not "very quick, but her first step is very fast. Consequently, she is able to cover a lot of ground." Because she is able to move quickly, Backus moved her from left field to center this season.
The UCLA coach said Gutierrez is willing to make sacrifices for the good of the team and that kind of attitude, the sort necessary to win national championships, has spread among a raft of freshmen on this year's edition of the Bruins.