RANCHO CUCAMONGA — Baseball no longer is the forbidden fruit for female athletes.
Three former Cal State Northridge All-Americans gave it their all at an open tryout Sunday for the Colorado Silver Bullets, the nation's only women's professional baseball team.
Priscilla Rouse was a member of two NCAA Division II national championship softball teams at CSUN. Tamara Ivie and Shannon Jones played in the NCAA Division I college softball World Series twice with the Matadors, who moved up to that level four years ago.
Winning has been an integral part of these athletes' careers, yet there they were in the sweltering Rancho Cucamonga heat striving to make a team that has a 1-20 record.
Seventy women showed up to try out for the Bullets in temperatures above 100 degrees. They clapped loudly at the start of orientation when Manager Phil Niekro was introduced.
"We're just looking for ballplayers to invite to camp next year," said Niekro, a former major league knuckleball pitcher who won 318 games in 24 years. "We looked at 1,700 women for our ball club last year and 24 made the team. We let four go since that. . . . It's not going to be easy."
The women, dressed in everything from baseball pants and T-shirts to shorts and tank tops, took note and got to work. The tryout tested speed, defensive ability, arm strength and accuracy.
Only those who did well in at least two categories made it to the batting cage.
Those who didn't went home.
"This is not a public relations trip," said Tommy Jones, the Silver Bullets' director of player development. "There will be a lot of hurt emotions, but this is the same scenario as a major league baseball trial."
Jones, who runs the tryouts, played eight seasons of professional baseball and managed 12 years in the minor leagues.
"If you can't throw, can't run, can't catch, we're not gonna pick you," he said. "We don't carry too many DHs."
Rouse, an outfielder who will play in the Olympic Sports Festival beginning this weekend, expected a challenge but didn't think she was out of her league.
"I can't see a good softball player not being able to adjust to the game," she said.
But of the 70 players trying out, only 20 made it to the end of the lengthy workout. Ivie, Jones and Rouse were among them. So was Sandra Romero, a 32-year-old Ventura native who played softball at Ventura High and Ventura College.
"I practice baseball three hours a day with my nephew's Pony baseball team," said Romero, who works in construction. "I love playing ball. I grew up around the sport and as a little girl always wished I could play with the Dodgers."
Ivie and Jones are students and have no commitments that would hinder them should they land jobs as professional ballplayers. Romero is self-employed and says she could take time off.
Rouse, 30, is a computer software engineer and would have to take a sabbatical if she makes the team.
The Silver Bullets play men's minor league, semipro, amateur and over-30 teams.
Coaches wouldn't name the top candidates from Sunday's tryout, but they anticipate inviting about three players from Rancho Cucamonga to spring training.
The 20 finalists were told they would be contacted by mail toward the end of summer.
However Niekro was not impressed with what he saw.
"It was an average tryout," he said. "A lot of people were out for the first time and they said, 'That's a long way to throw the ball.' We did have better arms than we thought we would in the bullpen, though."
Jones was glad to hear that because she tried out as an infielder and pitcher. The 21-year-old says it was her first time throwing a baseball.
"I felt I had nothing to lose," she said. "This is a chance of a lifetime. What else is there for us to play after college softball? This is great. It's exciting."
But the transition from softball may not be easy. Wooden bats are heavier than the aluminum ones used in softball. Baseball dimensions are also tougher to navigate and the ball is much smaller and travels faster.
Ivie says it felt strange handling a baseball. The 21-year-old played in three softball games with her summer league on Saturday and felt awkward fielding baseballs on Sunday.
"It was hard to adjust," she said. "It took me four times to get the ground ball. I figured it would be like this, but I wanted to try out anyway."
The tryout was held in conjunction with the Silver Bullets' Monday game against the Southern California Tremors 30-and-over club. The Bullets lost, 8-1, but scored for the first time in 10 games.
The 3,191 fans were not concerned with the Bullets' horrible record and often sloppy play against the Tremors.
They cheered loudly when pitcher Shae Sloan threw her first strike in the second inning, went crazy when designated hitter Pam Schaffrath smacked a double in the third and jumped and yelled wildly when right fielder Michelle Delloso stole third base in the fourth.
These fans even cheered when the Tremors committed an error and booed every time a Silver Bullet pop fly was caught.