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League of Their Own II : Glendale Man Making His Pitch to Bring Back Women's Professional Baseball

April 30, 1993|JOHN M. GLIONNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Since then, Boyd has sought corporate money to fund his new league. But after contacting more than 50 possible sponsors, he admits that he has yet to collect even the first dime of the $1 million he says is needed for the league's first year.

That fact hasn't stopped Boyd or his girls.

Three nights a week, they practice at George Izay Park in Burbank, working on their fundamentals, waiting for their new league to get its legs.

Karen Kenney, a 24-year-old outfielder from Boston, slaps a fist into her mitt and sums up the attitude around this infield. "I'm definitely ready to play ball," she says in a flattened "pahk-the-cah" accent.

"I can do anything that a guy can do."

The grounder scorches a trail down the third-base line, zinging into the outstretched glove of third baseman Jill Schenk. Her teeth clenched, she drills the ball to second baseman Christina Hernandez, who relays a throw to first. Double play.

So what if it is only practice? Like cheerleaders, the entire infield jumps and screams in delight.

"That's the way we play baseball, ladies," Coach Boyd yells from the sidelines. "Let's meet at the mound for a group hug."

Like some baseball version of "I'm OK, You're OK," the entire team joins in an octopus embrace. With their beaming coach in the middle.

Over the last year, Boyd has seen the highs and lows of baseball--from the near-perfect form of his veterans to the Keystone Kops high jinks of the beginners. He's seen beefy power hitters jump back from an inside fastball and scream bloody murder, "just like they saw a mouse."

And he's seen gritty players beaned in the forehead by a speeding baseball--only to jump up minutes later to rejoin the practice.

But Boyd treats them all the same, insisting that with the right instruction, they're all potential major leaguers. His method involves a series of freeze-frame moves that has brought grace from the goofy.

Suddenly, at a field shared with a Little League team, Boyd shouts several code-worded commands and watches his players drop their gloves to perform like an aerobics class moving through a series of sinewy poses. "Peel the banana!" he commands. "Melt butter!" "Water fountain!" "Hood ornament!"

For most, Boyd is more than just a baseball coach. Indeed, his practices often take on the guise of a personal counseling session. Even when grounders slip through his players' legs, Boyd refuses to criticize them.

Boyd calls himself "The Minister of Baseball."

"Sometimes I feel like God led me to this man," Kenney says as she does a set of leg stretches. Several months ago, the athletic blonde was approached by Boyd at the same park as she watched her boyfriend play softball. Her life changed.

"He teaches us to think of ourselves as human beings, not men or women, black or white," she says. "He says that God has given us a talent that we shouldn't throw away."

Adds Jill Schenk: "We're his disciples. And he's like our Pied Piper."

But some players believe that Boyd has become a false god, one who has made promises about salaries and free travel that he can't keep. Others have felt pressured to forsake jobs and careers for the playing field--a tactic that has driven women from the team.

"There are a lot of demands," says Margaret Christopher, a San Fernando florist who brought her 6-year-old son to practice. "Mike doesn't like us to say we're out here to have fun. If that's the case, he tells us to stay home. He believes we're here to work, to be seen as baseball players.

"But I'm a single parent with a child to support. And baseball isn't paying the bills."

Satriano sees things differently. Like Boyd, the 27-year-old Los Angeles County deputy district attorney grew up around baseball. Her father, Tom Satriano, played third base for the Angels during the 1960s.

At age 7, Satriano's family says, she became the first girl in California to play boys' baseball. Since then, when not practicing law, she has played semipro ball on all-male teams and not long ago tried out for the Seattle Mariners.

She says she lost her shot at the majors when her fastball came up 2 m.p.h. short of the 80 m.p.h. cutoff. Still, Satriano hits the ball with power and can throw a ball faster than most men her age.

Now, the thought of languishing in a women's fast-pitch softball league saddens her. But Coach Boyd has given her hope.

"I'm just happy to be here," she says, swinging a bat like a weapon. "This league has given me a chance to play baseball again."

However penniless, the league has its supporters.

"Both Mike and I have seen women who could perform on a baseball field--our sisters and our mother for starters," Dennis Boyd says. "When Mike told me about this idea, I wasn't surprised. You've got girls who want to play baseball. Women saying, 'I can do what you can do.' "

But Dottie Collins has her doubts about women taking a full swing at baseball. When it comes to sports, the former pitcher for the Fort Wayne Daisies of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League says women are equal--but still separate.

"I'm one of those women who believes that women can't invade the men's game," said the 69-year-old league veteran. "We have our own place. These aren't the war years. I think we should concentrate on fast-pitch softball before taking on any baseballs."

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