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Thursday, August 24, 1995 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Ex-UW Softball Star Learns About Hardball The Hard Way

SHE'S SWORN OFF chewing tobacco, but Angie Marzetta is out to prove she - and other women - can make it in the gritty game of baseball.

Angie Marzetta handed over her grimy, battered baseball cap.

"You want to smell this thing?" she asked.

Members of the Colorado Silver Bullets baseball team are issued new caps throughout the season, but Marzetta, first-year outfielder and former University of Washington softball star, has kept her original. The new ones go to family and friends.

"I haven't washed it, either," she said. "Though sometimes after a bad game I wear it into the shower."

Marzetta, 5-foot-5 center fielder, is the Silver Bullets' version of Lenny Dykstra - feisty and pugnacious, willing to argue with an ump or fling her helmet after striking out - but minus the chewing tobacco, which she gave up as a Mother's Day present.

"It was a terrible habit," Marzetta said with a grin.

"When you get frustrated, you sometimes start looking for a vice. But I promised my mom I would quit."

Of course, a vice or two might be expected from a player who lists John Kruk as her sports hero.

She doesn't get paid like a major-leaguer - first-year players for the Silver Bullets receive $20,000, second-year players $25,000. But she receives some of the same adulation in the form of autograph requests.

"One of the neatest things is seeing the different groups when you sign. Kids and adults," said Marzetta, 22. "You feel like a solid role model. Who would have thought three years ago little boys would be asking a professional woman baseball player for an autograph?"

Role-model attributes aside, Marzetta realizes the main objective of the Silver Bullets. "This is to prove that women can compete with men," she said. "Women do it in all kinds of areas and we want to do it on the baseball field."

Playing against men's semipro and amateur teams across the country, the Silver Bullets are 11-29 after a 7-2 victory over the Puget Sound Mariners last night in Everett. In their first season last year, they finished 6-37. The hitting has improved dramatically - from 1.9 runs per game and a .141 batting average to 3.7 runs and a .186 mark.

Still, the Bullets rely on defense - such as Marzetta's diving catch in Bellingham on Monday night of a line drive into left-center or catcher Missy Cress throwing out three runners attempting to steal - and excellent control from the pitching staff. Silver Bullet pitchers average a little more than three walks per game, just about half that of their opponents.

"Baseball is more of a finesse sport than others. That's why there's a Silver Bullets," said Marzetta. "But remember, these guys have been playing baseball for 15, 16 years. We've been playing one or two."

Like most of the Silver Bullets, Marzetta is a softball transplant. An All-American for the Huskies in 1994, Marzetta led the team in hitting her junior and senior years and set a Pac-10 record with 59 stolen bases in 1993. But her baseball experience had been limited to "playing home-run derby with my brothers in the back yard."

A Navy brat who attended high school in California - where she started one year as an outside linebacker in football - and junior college in Arizona, Marzetta was urged to attend a local Silver Bullets tryout camp by Husky assistant coach John Rittman. She took her first baseball swings the day before the tryout as Husky baseball catcher Christian Shewey tossed batting practice.

"The first curveball he threw me bounced about four feet in front of the plate, but I still swung at it," Marzetta said. "At the time I thought that must be what a big-league curveball looks like."

Marzetta made it through the camp and was invited to spring training in February - but was issued number 13.

"I'm the most superstitious person," she said. "I won't step on the foul lines. In college, I wouldn't shower on road trips - the team used to try to throw me in the pool. And here I get number 13."

She tried to find a good sign. In Italy, she remembered, 13 is considered good luck. When she made the team, she kept the number.

"Angie's a good athlete," said Silver Bullet Manager Phil Niekro, the knuckleballing winner of 318 big-league games. "She's got a lot to learn, but she brings a little spunk to the team. That's something we've been lacking."

Marzetta has used tips from batting coach Johnny Grubb, a 16-year major-league veteran, to build a .213 batting average, fourth on the team. Her ability to draw walks has enabled her to reach base four out of every 10 times. But when you've hit .472, as Marzetta did for the Huskies as a junior, .213 is hard to deal with.

"Defense hasn't been that big of an adjustment," Marzetta said, "but hitting is a major change. You can't get a hit just by making contact like in softball. I've had some good contact and the ball doesn't get out of the infield. And anticipating the different spins. Knucksie (Niekro) threw me this pitch in batting practice the other day, some friggin' sideways-spinning thing. I still have no idea what it was."

Marzetta applauds the patience of the coaching staff, saying: "They've been understanding of our frustration of jumping to a new level. We're not accustomed to losing. I'm certainly not used to it."

NOTE

-- Christine Monge has a different background from most of the Silver Bullets. She grew up playing baseball.

"I played Little League and Babe Ruth until I was 15," said Monge, 22.

Monge grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area before attending Shorecrest High in her senior year. She lives in Brier and attends Bellevue Community College.

Copyright (c) 1995 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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