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The revenge of the "old ladies'

Katherine, the mudpie queen, was on one side of the fence and Freda Gibson, her outfielder-Mom, was on the other side.

Gibson was about to bat, and she needed some good luck.

Daughter Katherine provided it with a kiss through the fence.

But before Gibson could walk to the plate, she had a little mothering to tend to.

"You've got a mosquito on your leg," Mom said. "Katherine. Katherine, come here."

Slap, through the fence.

Miss, through the fence.

Slap again, through the fence.

Miss again, through the fence.

"I'm never going to get it," Mom said.

And she never did.

It was Gibson's turn to bat, and Mom had a women's rec-league softball game to play at Bicentennial Park.

Her attention was torn: Half was on the game while the other half was on a 4-year-old who makes the best dang mudpies in Citrus County.

Many of the five-team league's players can relate to Mom's split concerns. Except, that is, those on Gibson's current club, the River Safaris BMWs.

"A lot of us on the team have kids," she said, "but for most of them their child-rearing years are past."

The BMWs are the league's age 35-and-over entry.

That's BMW _ Beautiful Mature Women.

They range in age from 35 to 53, and it doesn't really matter who's 35 and who's 53.

"We try to protect the innocent," Gibson said. "Some of us don't say how old we are _ even the younger ones."

To some, they're the league's over-the-hill gang.

"I was walking in for one game, against Crystal River Bank," Gibson said, "and we heard some of their girls saying, "Oh, they're all old ladies.'


The bank, though, got a lesson in sageness the last time it met the BMWs. The score was 20-15, and it was the old ladies who won. The rematch is at 7 tonight.

"They're going to be wanting to kill us," Gibson said.

But expect the BMWs to hold their own. With three games to go in the season, they own a 5-4 record and third place in the league.

"In a way, I think some of them respect us," Gibson said of the league's younger players. "Right now our biggest problem is we're awfully slow. It's like slow-motion going around the bases. The whole game seems slow. Sometimes I'm sitting out there in the outfield, thinking, "God, is it only the third inning?'


No excuses in this game

Gibson said her teammates are forced to play excuse-free softball.

"We can't out-complain each other," she said. "When we played with the younger kids, we got away with saying, "Oh, my back.' But now we can't do that."

What they can do is have fun.

They come to the dugout yelling for oxygen and compliment themselves on good plays by saying, "Not bad for a bunch of old ladies."

"They joke with themselves, they joke with their opponents through the entire thing," said BMW manager Joanne Korth, a Times sports writer who is half the age of some of her players.

"Nobody fusses over what position they're going to play and where they're batting in the lineup. They all just show up and say, "What a great night to play softball.' "

Leadoff hitter and leftfielder Ruth Ruppert covers so much ground that opposing players ask her to produce a birth certificate and prove she's old enough to be a BMW.

Pitcher Mary Doyle and shortstop Nancy Rayman double as power hitters.

"I was throwing batting practice," Korth said, "and Nancy hit a ball so hard that it knocked me down and sent me to the bench for the rest of the night. So much for young reflexes."

First baseman Joan Mann reaches for throws with full-extension splits, and it's the envy of every other first baseman in the league.

"Younger players come up to her all the time and say, "I hope when I'm your age I still play as well as you do _ or play at all,' " Korth said. "Joan always gets really sheepish, and says, "Thank you,' because she knows they mean it as a compliment, but deep down I can tell she's thinking, "What about my age? I'm spry for any age.' "

One time, baserunner Cheri Lolly's enthusiasm got the best of her.

"Cheri was coming from second to third and I put up the stop signal," Korth said. "About three steps away from the base, she says, "I'm going,' and she breezed through the stop sign. By now, the third baseman has the ball. Somehow, she made it home safe. I just don't know how."

The only problem Korth has with her club is finding someone brave enough to play third base.

"Whoever I put there never complains," the manager said, "but I can see their knees shaking. Nobody wants to play the hot corner.

"Freda (Gibson) was the one who got stuck at third to begin with, then I sent her to the outfield. She said she's not coming back in to third until she catches a ball out there. I think she's letting them go over her head on purpose."

Coach and cheerleader

Gibson tried to start a similar team two years ago, but had no luck.

"We had some women come out for about two weeks of practice," she said, "but then they just didn't show up."

Instead, Gibson managed another team in the league that year.

"But I couldn't play with them," she said, "because they're all too young and too good."

This year Gibson tried again to organize the club, drawing some players out of semi-retirement and others off the rosters of other teams.

"A lot of women on our team have coached before, but they didn't want to do it this year so they could just play," Gibson said. "Really, Joanne (Korth) was awfully brave. She expected us to go out there and, you know, well _ we were just wanting to have a good time."

"I tease them, saying they just needed somebody to carry the heavy bat bag and water cooler," Korth said. "Most of them are to the point in their careers where they really don't need any coaching. I'm the team encourager more than anything."

At their first practice, Korth asked the players to write their position of preference on an index card. She wound up with 11 outfielders and three catchers; no one wanted to play the infield.

But the team can hit.

"They hit it hard _ it's just that everything's a single," Korth said. "Well, that's not entirely true. We had, back-to-back, a double and a triple against Citrus Squeeze the other night. It was a momentous inning _ produced our only run of the game.

"I think coming into the season they wouldn't have been at all surprised to finish last. But all of sudden, they've gotten really greedy with all this success stuff. Now they want to finish at least in second place."

Should they have encountered problems competing in the league, though, a bail-out plan was drawn up. With each hit by an opposing team, the BMWs were simply to rotate positions.

"Because," Korth said, "each 35-year-old woman is pretty much interchangeable with the other."

"A little levity never hurts," Gibson said.

But the BMWs have been playing so well that their rotation plan has not been needed. To the contrary, they're already talking about plans for next season. After all, Gibson said, other players in the league "are getting older, too."

"Next year, some of them are going to come knocking on the door asking, "Can we play on your team?' " she said. "We may have to start a farm club."

As for Katherine, she only has 31 years to wait before she and Mom can be BMW teammates. Until then, there's plenty of mudpies to be made.