Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Shy Smile. Mean Fastball.

Max Schulte for The New York Times
Katie Brownell, 11 years old and 5-foot-8,

threw a perfect game on Saturday in

Little League action in Oakfield, N.Y.

From the New York Times

May 19, 2005


As the only girl in her upstate Little League, 11-year-old Katie Brownell had already made her mark. An all-star since she was 9, Katie plays hardball better than almost any boy her age in Oakfield, Alabama, Elba and Pembroke, her home turf of farm towns between Rochester and Buffalo.

But nobody expected what happened on Saturday. Katie pitched a perfect game.

"She's very bashful, but very talented," said Jeff Sage, a Rochester firefighter and the manager of Katie's team, the Dodgers. Her pitching on Saturday mowed down the opposing Yankees in an 11-0 shutout before a stunned crowd of about 100 parents and friends in the bleachers of the Oakfield Town Park.

"I can't imagine being a boy that has to face her at the plate," said Eric Klotzbach, an engineer and the president of Katie's seven-team league in Genesee County. "It has got be a shot to the ego."

News of Katie's achievement, lacking some of the urgency of a major-league feat, was first spread yesterday morning in an article on the front page of the sports section of the closest daily newspaper, The Daily News of Batavia. But by afternoon, when she returned home from her sixth-grade classes, Katie was in an unexpected - and unsought - spotlight.

"She had no idea," said Denise Bischoff, Katie's mother, who began taking phone calls about 1:30 p.m. from the "Today" show, Buffalo television stations and New York City newspapers.

Katie, whose prowess on the pitcher's mound has yet to extend to the press box, offered an easy smile but only terse and quiet responses in a short interview, often deferring to her mother. Ms. Bischoff said Katie turned "beet red" when she got on the telephone with a producer for "Today," which eventually decided not to present a segment on the perfect game, apparently because videotape of Katie's pitching was not available.

It was all a little dizzying for Oakfield, a community of about 3,200 with one traffic light in the center of town and three verdant baseball diamonds in the town park, with bright red sand around the bases and a small electronic scoreboard provided by the local Pepsi distributor.
"This is nothing we ever expected would happen," Ms. Bischoff said.

It is still, after all, the Little League, where players at widely varying stages of physical development are sometimes poorly matched. Katie, at 5-foot-8, is taller than any boy on her team.

But her performance Saturday was rare. Her perfect game was even more perfect than the common definition of the term, which refers to a pitching performance in which every batter is turned back, either by striking out or hitting a ball that results in an out.

Katie made it simpler: She struck out everybody, yielding no more than two balls to any batter.
"I can't remember this ever happening," said Mr. Sage, who was on duty with his Rochester fire company and missed Saturday's game, but said he received several phone calls from excited relatives as soon as Katie struck out the final batter in the six-inning game.

He said players on other teams in the league might find it unnerving to be overpowered by a girl on the pitcher's mound, but that Katie's teammates "think it is great that she's on our side."
Katie, whose full name is Katelyn, is in her third season playing hardball in the Little League. She decided at the last minute not to switch this summer to a girls softball team in the same league.

"We're glad she stayed with us," Mr. Sage said.

Little League pitcher Katie Brownell donates

her jersey to Hall of Fame President Dale Petroskey.

Brownell, the only girl in her league,

threw a perfect game, striking out every batter.

(Dan Holmes)

Even before the game on Saturday, which was her team's third outing this year, Katie demonstrated striking abilities on the mound, relying almost entirely on a fastball that she can "place just about where she wants," Mr. Sage said. In the season's first game, she allowed only one hit and struck out 14 batters in five innings.

She is also a major threat at the plate, with a batting average of .714 after three games.
Ms. Bischoff said her daughter had been an avid baseball player since she was about 6, and learned the game from two older brothers. But she said Katie's first year as the only girl in the Little League was trying, and her teammates sometimes told her she should play softball with the other girls.

"She is very competitive," Ms. Bischoff said. "She has proven herself, and now baseball is fun."

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