Say It Ain't So

updated 06/06/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/06/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

THE TIMING COULDN'T HAVE BEEN worse. Gina Satriano was working on her first murder case as a deputy district attorney in Compton, Calif., when she got the call. "I have bills, student loans," says the 28-year-old lawyer, "but I'd have died for this chance." So Satriano chucked her day job to pursue a dream: becoming a professional baseball player for the Colorado Silver Bullets, the first all-woman team to play its entire 42-game schedule against men. From May to August, the Silver Bullets will go up against minor-league and semi-pro teams all across the U.S.

The chance to test their skills against the boys of summer proved irresistible to many of Satriano's team-mates, too. Stacey Sunny, 28, had landed a "really great" freelance production job on the CBS show Rescue 911 when she was invited to try out for the Bullets. "It was something new and something fresh," she says, "something I wished I could have done my entire life."

Julie Croteau, 23, had a graduate fellowship at Smith College in Northampton, Mass. "I left in the middle of finals to come to the tryout," she says.

Satriano, Sunny and Croteau were among 1,300 women who answered an open recruitment call at 11 sites around the country; 49 were invited to spring training in Orlando, and 24 made the team. Since the women didn't have the performance statistics—including batting and earned-run averages—that most male players accumulate over seasons of competition, the selection process was tough. "At first, all we had was mechanics: Did the throw look good? Is that a pretty swing?" says Bob Hope, the Knoxville, Tenn., sports promoter who persuaded Coors Brewing Company (producers of Silver Bullet beer) to sponsor the team.

Getting any baseball experience at all had been a battle for these women—even Satriano, who, as a youngster growing up in suburban Los Angeles, learned the game from her father, Tom "Satch" Satriano, a onetime in-fielder for the California Angels and the Oakland Athletics. It took her mother, Sherry, to give Gina, then 7, her start in organized ball. "In 19731 was the first girl in California to play Little League, and my mom had to threaten a lawsuit lo get me in," says Gina.

She continued to play on mostly boys' teams through her elementary school years—despite attempts to gel her to quit. "My parents got threatening phone calls in the middle of the night," say Satriano. "People burned a tree in front of our house one night."

By the time she got to high school, though, Satriano had gotten the message—guys play baseball; girls play softball. But she never lost her love of hardball. Last year she joined a women's team that played in weekend tournaments. She would often leave her office for practice, return late at night to finish her caseload, then go home to Malibu, where she lives with her family. "I'd return from practice high as a kite," she says.

Stacey Sunny, a catcher and third-baseman who used to play pickup games with her older brother and his friends in a park across the street from her San Bernardino. Calif., home, was also rejected by Little League. "When I was 8 my mom tried to sign me up, and they said no, girls weren't allowed yet," says Sunny. "The next year was my first year."

Sunny played baseball until high school, when she too was shunted over to softball—with the inducement that it would make it easier for her to get a college scholarship. "I resented it a little bit at first," she says. She became a softball ail-American on an NCAA championship team at UCLA, but for her the game was a dead end. "There was nowhere I could go with it," she says.

First baseman Julie Croteau, who grew up in Manassas, Va., the oldest daughter of two lawyers, had no trouble getting started. She was playing Little League at age 5 and, she says, by age 12 had the second-highest batting average in her league. Still there was resentment—she didn't make the ail-star team because, she says, "All the boys voted, and none of them voted for me."

Her attempts to join her high school team were continually rebuffed. In her senior year she decided to fight back. She sued the school system—and became a target. "Guys left notes on my car. They made me feel bad in the hallway," she says. "And anyone who ever went to high school understands what kind of ammunition that is—to be the weird girl."

In the end, Croteau lost her case—and her confidence. "For two weeks we sat in the courtroom, and they were saying, 'She can't run, she can't throw, she can't walk, she's horrible, she can't be on our team,' " says Croteau. "After that I was having a little trouble believing in myself."

She bounced back when the coach of a local men's semipro team invited her to its practices. Later, at St. Mary's College in Maryland, Croteau became the first woman to play on an NCAA baseball team. In 1993 she had a non-speaking role in the movie A League of Their Own.

Now that Satriano, Sunny, Croteau and the other players finally do have a team of their own, they have discovered a new kind of barrier: winning. On their Mother's Day opener, the team lost 19-0 to the semipro Northern League All-Stars. They lost their next two games also. Still they have the crowd—and even some of the opposition—behind them. "I was very-impressed, especially with the intensity and the desire," said Leon "Bull" Durham, 36, a former Chicago Cubs first baseman who hit two home runs in the season opener.

Silver Bullets manager Phil Niekro, 55, who won 318 major-league games in 24 years, mostly for the Atlanta Braves, isn't worried about the team's won-and-lost record. "I think we were a success when we stepped out on the field that first day of spring training," he says.

Croteau agrees. "A lot of people talk about how important this is to the next generation—and it is," she says. "Maybe the next girl won't have to take her high school to court." But just now she is thinking about a more immediate payoff. "When I'm playing, I'm not stressed out. I'm not thinking about anything else that's around," she explains. "It is the most beautiful thing."

MARY H.J. FARRELL
CINDY DAMPIER in Orlando

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