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Thursday, June 4, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Mining For Diamond Gems New Women’s Hardball Team Ready To Test New Arena

Willy Hutchinson paced the parking lot like an expectant father.

After years of dreaming, the birth of his women’s hardball team was finally just days away. And the inaugural practice at the Ferris High School field was scheduled to begin in a matter of minutes.

No sooner than Hutchinson could unload the bat bags, a small predicament popped up when he discovered the field had been overtaken by a Men’s Adult Baseball League team. The problem was easily solved when Hutchinson switched the practice to a far-less groomed field behind the main diamond.

Now all he could do was wait and do his best imitation of an insecure 16-year-old waiting for the guests to arrive at her Sweet Sixteen party.

Would anyone bother to show?

“I’m always nervous,” Hutchinson said. “Years ago, I used to have a team, five of them used to hide two blocks away from the field because they knew I was like this. They would peek around the corner just to see how much pacing I was doing.”

Hutchinson, sponsor and coach, was hoping for 15 women to attend the first-ever hardball practice. He nearly reached that number, and one by one directed the women to the alternative field.

“Women’s hardball has always been in the back of my head someday to do this,” said Hutchinson. “That, and a lifetime bar of soap.”

He’s still working on the perpetual suds. The baseball team, he’s got. It’s called the Land Title Co. women’s hardball team after Hutchinson’s company and includes area athletes who range in age from their late teens to late 30s.

All of them play softball and modified slowpitch at advanced levels. Only one of them, former Silver Bullet Wendy Espinosa of Clarkston, has competed against men on the baseball field.

“There’s a lot of women who have dropped out of softball. A real lot,” said Hutchinson.

“A lot of them have kids who have gone into T-ball, and being the good mothers that they are, the kids come first. I understand that. You get a woman up around 25, 26 years old and she drops out, you’ve pretty much lost her.”

Hutchinson only played as far as the American Legion level but has been involved in women’s softball for nine years. His head coach, Terry “Bud” Bulling, played in the major leagues for 10 years and retired in 1983 as a catcher with the Seattle Mariners. The two crossed paths through the Newport women’s softball scene.

For Hutchinson, coaching women rather than men will do just fine, for now and forever.

“In all honesty, it’s because of the (men’s) ego problem and the alcohol problem,” he said.

“People who think that Western civilization will come to an end if they’re not safe at second and if they’re called out, they’ve got to have a few beers. It’s no good. We can’t play ball like that.”

However, he’d like his team to play ball against 35-and-over men’s clubs. The team already has one game scheduled for Aug. 6 at Newport High School at 6:15 p.m. against the Newport Mariners 35-and-over team. Ironically, the team that bumped the women from Ferris’ main field also expressed interest.

Judging by the Land Title Co.’s first official workout, games could be easier to find than runs.

“They’re used to seeing the ball 62 to 63 mph,” explained Bulling, 45, owner of a body shop in Newport. “Most of the changeups are 65 to 70 they’re going to see now. And they’re taking 2 inches off the size of the ball.”

Pitching could be in shorter supply.

At practice, most of the women took their turn on the mound. For many, their lack of velocity probably wouldn’t get them out of the first inning. For others, what they made up for in speed, they lacked in control.

“It’s really hard,” said K’Anne Howland, a 39-year-old elementary physical education teacher. “It’s a big difference from slowpitch and modified. It’s a big change.”

Hutchinson and Bulling said their plan is to get two innings out of the most promising pitchers.

“We have to develop our own pitchers. They’re not going to come to us,” Hutchinson said.

“I don’t expect to score runs the first year. We’re going to try. We’re going to try our best to win every game. But I don’t have any expectations.”

His first expectation already has been met. Hutchinson organized it - and they have come.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo

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