There was joy in St. Mary's Friday. Julie Croteau did not strike out.
As her teammates cheered her on from the bench - "Cup-a-tea now, Julie," "Whaddya say now, J.C." - Croteau made baseball history, the first woman on record to play NCAA varsity baseball.Not since Orel Hershiser stepped off the mound last October have so many media eyes been trained on a baseball diamond. Eleven news organizations - including NBC and Cable News Network - crowded the sidelines and stands as the Sea Hawks of St. Mary's College in Maryland hosted the Bobcats of Spring Garden College of Philadelphia.
That the vistors won, 4-1, was hardly noticed by the media herd, which only had eyes for Croteau. Starting at first base for St. Mary's, she played five innings, going hitless in three trips to the plate but making contact each time. Twice she grounded out to the pitcher; the third time she advanced the runner, who later scored. In the field, Croteau was errorless.
"She made contact," St. Mary's coach, Hal Willard, said. "For a freshman - male or female - with this kind of pressure, that's very good."
"She's fundamentally sound defensively. But as a hitter, she has yet to prove herself."
Croteau, 18, said she had some jitters from the cameras and reporters clustered around the field. "It felt like the pressure of the world was on my shoulders," she said after the game. "I'm glad it's over. It's going to just be baseball now."
Baseball is something Julie Croteau understands and is comfortable with; she's been playing the game regularly since the age of 6.
She's been a media darling for only a year - from the time last March when she and her parents filed a sex discrimination suit in federal court in Alexandria, Va., against Prince William County school officials and the varsity baseball coach at Osbourn Park High School. The Croteaus claimed that Julie was cut from the school's varsity baseball team because of her sex.
The judge disagreed. "There is no constitutional right to play ball," he said in his decision. "All there is is a right to compete for it on equal terms."
That's what Croteau says she's gotten from Willard, her coach at St. Mary's, a state-supported liberal arts college of 1,500 students about 60 miles south of Washington.
"They're open to me as a player. I don't think they're really worried about the sex aspect," said Croteau.
Some of her teammates do worry about the publicity she is attracting, however. "We've enjoyed it," said Beau Wilder, a junior left fielder from Riva, Md. "But we're ready to get it over with."
Her teammates give Croteau an "A" for effort and call her a "heads-up player" "with a good arm" who is a "good contact hitter"; they also concede she "doesn't have much power," in the words of pitcher Jeff Austin.
"All round, she's very skillful," he said. "She's aggressive, but she's not a star."
Croteau worked out with weights over the winter, adding nearly eight pounds of muscle to her formerly 122-pound frame.
"I'm not becoming a moose or anything, but I can feel it in the (batting) cage," she said.
Practicing four hours a day for several weeks now has made the team a close-knit group, according to several players, who say Croteau is a valued member. "She has a great personality," said Austin. "She's a little sarcastic at times but we deal with her."
Sean O'Connor, a freshman from Rockville who pitches and plays third base, said he met Croteau at a freshman mixer and had no idea she was "the girl who wanted to play baseball. We were hanging out and having a great time," he said. "I found out later who she was."