June 19, 1997 in Sports

Bullets Battle For Silver Lining

Dave Kindred The Sporting News

The Colorado Silver Bullets, the women’s professional baseball team, not only fell into a brawl with a team of 18-and-under Georgia boys last week, they beat the holy bejabbers out of the punks who first demeaned them with crude, sexist language and then intentionally hit a Bullets player with a pitch.

After center fielder Kim Braatz-Voisard was hit in the back, she took a step toward a laughing pitcher. “If Albert Belle gets hit by a pitcher who laughs at him,” says Bruce Crabbe, the Silver Bullets’ manager, “you think he might charge the mound?”

“She was on him like a cat on a pork chop,” says Mark Lastinger, a reporter who covered the game for the Albany (Ga.) Herald. Then dugouts emptied, fists flew, fans came out of the stands and an umpire threatened to call the police.

“As good a baseball brawl as I’ve ever seen,” says Phil Niekro, the Hall of Fame pitcher who now serves as general manager of the Silver Bullets. “All havoc broke loose. Some of our players got in some pretty good licks. And some of our players got hit. I’ve seen it before in baseball, but never with women.”

No one was injured. Nor did the Silver Bullets blame Braatz-Voisard for the outburst, which disturbed Steve Ellis, the Albany Herald’s sports editor. Ellis said, “By not fining or suspending Braatz-Voisard, the Silver Bullets send the message it’s OK for women to brawl but it’s not OK for men (who are routinely disciplined by organized baseball). She charged the mound intending to hit a teen-age kid, and she’s a 30-year-old married woman. Well, hello?”

Lastinger called the brawl “a public-relations disaster. I don’t care what was said or done, it’s hard to justify professional women athletes 30 years old beating up a bunch of high school boys.”

Bob Hope, the Silver Bullets’ president and a marketing consultant to major league baseball, said, “It’s not a public-relations problem - it’s baseball. It might even be a major step forward for women’s sports. There’s sociological value in women standing up for themselves.”

The brawl occurred with two out in the ninth inning of a game the Silver Bullets had led, 6-0, and ended up losing, 10-6. Five late-inning errors, exacerbated by the opponents’ trash talk, created an atmosphere of frustration on the heels of three losses to Nicaragua’s national team in which four Silver Bullets were hit by pitches.

By the ninth, then, Braatz-Voisard had had enough lip from the catcher, who had ignored warnings from the plate umpire to put a sock in it.

“Why don’t you just shut up and catch?” Braatz-Voisard said.

“We’re going to knock you down on this pitch,” the catcher said, and then came a fastball to her back.

Here, full disclosure: Three years ago, I wrote a little book about the Silver Bullets. Of the players, I most liked Kim Braatz-Voisard, a pretty woman who spends her winters volunteering at her church to help the helpless. She also can play.

Nor am I the only broken-down ballplayer who admires the Bullets. My graybeard colleague, Jack Warner, is a pitcher out of the Satchel Paige school of country hardball, which means he’s a right-hander who will tell you his age only when he feels you’re susceptible to deception.

He throws his high, soft stuff for the Mustangs of the 40-and-over Greater Atlanta Men’s Senior Baseball League. Mostly, he writes wonderfully, as in a recent account of two innings’ work against the Silver Bullets.

Drawing an artist’s distinction between fact and truth, Warner said it was a fact, as one paper reported, that the Silver Bullets “jumped on Atlanta starter Jack Warner for four second-inning runs.”

But he insisted the truth might have read this way: “The Silver Bullets jumped on Atlanta starter Jack Warner, a kindly gentleman old enough to be their grandfather, for four runs in the second inning. They did not, however, jump on him for any runs at all in the first inning.”

And Warner wrote, “I’ll carry that happily to my grave, for holding the Silver Bullets scoreless for an inning is no small thing. No matter that they are women; they play a man’s game with grace, agility and, above all, professionalism.

“They play just the way Phil Niekro has taught them - they’ll run over you or under you, spike you, gouge your eyeballs out and do anything else they can to win. I love ‘em.”

Anyone who likes the game and likes the idea of women in sports likes the Silver Bullets because they play the hardest game and they do it for the only reason 20 women would do such a thing, a reason passionately articulated by Kim Braatz-Voisard:

“There’s just something about baseball. I played softball from the time I was 5 through college and until I was 24. And it’s OK. But it’s softball. Baseball is more. It’s a passion.

“Like, I can sit in a ballpark after a game and love looking at the field. Everybody’s gone, and the ballpark is empty, and I’ll sit there. I sit there and think, ‘Is this as close to heaven as I’m going to get?’ Or, ‘If I get to heaven, will there be baseball?’

“We played at Fenway Park. After the game, they turned out the big lights. There were a few little ones on, so there was some light and shadows across the grass. I wanted to sit there all night. I thanked God for letting me play another baseball game. It’s so awesome.”

If Albert Belle has been so eloquent about the game that makes him rich and famous, it has escaped my notice. So I’ll leave him to his own devices when he picks his next fight. But in any brawl she chooses, Kim Braatz-Voisard can have me at her side.

This end note: In four years barnstorming across America to play more than 200 games against men’s teams, Braatz-Voisard is the first Silver Bullet ejected from a game. About that, I have only one word to say. Hooray.

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