The Girl of Summer

Page 4 of 5

And, she asserts even more strongly, what you look like. "I didn't fit the mold, I didn't fit the image," she says, the words coming fast, the agitation and irritation fresh once again. "The first thing you think of when you think of a female baseball player is this big Godzilla-looking woman. The Silver Bullets are basically a team of ugly, dykey-looking women, and that's not me. I'm not your typical female baseball player. I'm out on the field prancing around with my long blond hair and painted fingernails and I guess [Silver Bullets coach and ex-Atlanta Braves pitcher] Phil Niekro didn't think I could play baseball because of that."

Not true, says Bruce Crabbe, the Silver Bullets' infield coach and director of player development. He says players are selected solely for their abilities on the field. "We look for the best possible players, that is the A-number-one priority," says Crabbe, a former University of Miami baseball player and ex-big leaguer, having played nine years of pro ball in Chicago (with the Cubs), Atlanta, and Toronto. "Looks or anything else is not a factor. There is no such thing as an inside track to making the Silver Bullets." Crabbe adds he can't comment on Nichols's performance because of the sheer number of candidates the Silver Bullets staff considers at each tryout (anywhere between 25 and 125, by his estimate). He does say good players can be overlooked: "It's tough. We're not perfect. And with so many girls out there, we can only try to look for the best overall performance on the field."

Whatever the case, the Silver Bullets debacle bold-printed an axiom that Nichols claims has dogged her through her baseball career: not man enough for the women, too much a woman for the men. On a damp Wednesday night at Grand Prix, between turns in the batting cages with Heath, Dailey, and a couple of other teammates, Nichols complains that she can't make herself shop for clothes, saying she is "the only girl in South Florida who doesn't live for shopping, who doesn't live at the mall." As for male suitors, she refers to potential boyfriends as "wanna-be's," most of whom aren't quite sure what to make of an attractive woman who can throw a nearly 80-mile-per-hour fastball and drive an equally fast pitch to the nether regions of centerfield. Mostly, she goes out with friends, having after-game drinks at Shenanigan's, eating stone crabs at Joe's, and sampling the myriad sporting diversions at Dave & Buster's, an entertainment megaplex in Hollywood.

In her remaining spare time, Nichols has been working for the last year with her friend Marvin Friedman on a screenplay: Diamond Girl, a semi-autobiographical tale in which a female baseball player named Tina becomes the first woman to play major-league baseball, in this case, for the Florida Marlins. The screenplay was finished in August, and a song was written for the film by Doria's Pier 5 keyboardist/vocalist Ed Slater titled "Major League Girl." Nichols and Friedman plan on shopping the script to studios such as Warner Bros., King World, and Disney. She's also hoping to get the screenplay into the hands of Hollywood producer Warren G. Stitt, who was at the helm of The Spitfire Grill, a recent favorite of Nichols.

"I just sat down and started writing," she says of the endeavor, which chronicles some of Nichols's real-life baseball struggles. "I had never written anything before in my life. I didn't know where to start so I bought a notebook and wrote 'The scene is Key West ...' and just put it all down." She envisions the film as one for the family, but also one that could provide motivation and inspiration for anyone interested in toppling tradition and rewriting rules to fit their own desires.

"I see the appeal of this being for little boys, little girls, anyone who's interested in baseball, anyone who wants to do something people say they can't. I know when I was growing up there was never anything like this for me. As a female athlete, I would go to the theater and get really motivated by movies like Rocky or Bull Durham and The Natural. But they're all male-oriented movies. Except for real feminine ones like Ice Castles, there's never been a movie for a female athlete. You have A League of Their Own, but that's a true story. I think Diamond Girl can do something different. When little girls see me play, they ask me all the questions about how I do it, was it hard. I think this could show them they can do it too.

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John Floyd