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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS | SOFTBALL / PAIGE A.
LEECH

Lopez Had Short Wait Before She Hit the Long Ball

July 11, 1998|PAIGE A. LEECH

It didn't take long for Chelo Lopez to get comfortable in the Women's Pro Fastpitch League.

Not by a long shot.

In her first official at-bat for the Georgia Pride on May 30, Lopez, among the leading sluggers in Cal State Northridge history, hit a home run and sent a message to pitchers in the WPF that she had arrived.

Halfway through the season, Lopez leads the league with seven home runs and will play in the league's first all-star game Tuesday in Akron, Ohio. The game will be televised by ESPN2 on July 20 at 7 p.m.

"I'm kind of excited about it," Lopez said. "It should be fun."

Fun is driving in 19 runs in 27 games, collecting 26 hits in 81 at-bats and leading the Pride to a second-place finish in the first half of the season.

Still, nothing beats the sheer joy of launching home runs, said Lopez, who slugged 40 in her four-year career at Northridge. Only now it's a little tougher.

"I was pretty spoiled at Northridge because the field is so small," said Lopez, who is second on the Matadors' all-time home run list. "You'd hit a pop fly and it goes out."

While most college fields are 200 feet to the outfield fences, professional fields are more consistent with baseball--the distance being farther toward the middle of the field. Most of the professional fields are 200 feet down the lines, 220 to the gaps and 240 to center.

Lopez, the Big West Conference player of the year last season, is accustomed to the extra effort it takes to knock a ball out of the park. But the weather in Columbus, Ga., where her team is based, is a different story.

"It's hot and sticky," said Lopez, a native of Torrance. "It's just gross. It's just the weather I hate."

Lopez is enjoying her quasi-celebrity status in Columbus, where her likeness can be seen on billboards and local television promotions.

"It is so awesome here," she said. "It totally feels like a professional league."

*

The pain was all too familiar for Heather Bell of Calabasas High.

The instant her left leg struck the catcher's shin guard while she slid into home, Bell knew her summer season was over.

"I was just so mad because I knew it had happened again," Bell said.

For the second time in two summers, Bell broke her left leg while sliding and will miss the rest of the summer season with the 18-and-under Southern California Stealth Black team.

"She was batting .571 and getting looked at by all these college coaches," said Bell's father, Greg. "I was telling my wife, 'Heather's scary,' then boom. . . . I'm keeping my mouth shut from now on."

Bell, who broke her tibia and fibula last summer, had four of five pins removed in October from her previous injury and was able to compete for Calabasas in the spring.

After batting .375 for the Coyotes, Bell was off to an outstanding start with the Stealth.

But her recent injury--a leg splintered in three places--put the 5-foot-10 infielder in a toe-to-thigh cast for 12 weeks and had her questioning her future in a sport she has played for most of her 15 years.

"In the beginning, I wasn't sure [if I ever wanted to play again]," Bell said. "I was just so scared it was going to happen again."

But Bell realized how hard it would be to drop softball in her household. Older sister Kenya plays at Loyola Marymount and younger sister Kortney plays for the 12-and-under Stealth.

"After watching [Kortney's] team play, I started to change my mind," Bell said.

Besides, isn't the worst behind her? The Bells certainly hope so.

"You can't [break your leg] three times, that's just impossible," Greg Bell said.

*

Bell isn't the only Coyote softball player to be injured this summer.

Catcher Sara Hall injured her knee when an opponent slid into her at home during a tournament game in Upland last month.

Hall refused to tell anyone about it.

"I'm the kind of person that I have to be dying to be taken out," Hall said.

Hall played 12 games with pain before she woke up one morning and couldn't walk.

Later that day, Hall was digging pitched balls out of the dirt at the Junior Olympic camp in Oklahoma City.

"After about the fifth one, I couldn't get up," Hall said.

Hall, batting .457 on the 16-and-under Stealth through 17 games, was taken out of practice by a trainer and sent home.

An MRI revealed no ligament damage. Hall, whose leg has been in a brace for two weeks, said she is ready to return to action despite not being able to fully extend her leg.

Justina Kahaku, a Canyon outfielder, has played well in place of Hall. But Hall doesn't want Kahaku to get too comfortable in a catcher's mask.

"It's very weird to see someone else in my gear," Hall said. "It doesn't look right."

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