Team USA's big-bopper is tearing it up at the Games
Posted: Thursday August 19, 2004 12:18PM; Updated: Thursday August 19, 2004 12:18PM
Team USA third baseman Crystl Bustos has been called the Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa of softball, but a more apt comparison would be to Freddy and Jason.
She is just that scary.
In a sport dominated to an obscene degree by pitching -- Lisa Fernandez threw the Team USA's fifth consecutive one-hitter Thursday in a 7-0 mercy-rule win over the alpha females from California who compose the bulk of the Greek team -- Bustos is big bopper. She is 5-foot-8, 200 or so pounds -- "I could lose a few," says Bustos, who decidedly is not Crystl Light -- and when she stands in the right-hand batter's box, it looks as if she should have her own zip code. She holds the bat high, and waits, usually patiently, for pitches she can turn on, like that Greek offering she stung for a two-out single in the first inning. On the real Dream Team of Athens, she is the Worst Nightmare.
"She absolutely changes the game, not just when she's hot but by simply being in the lineup," says Team USA second baseman Lovieanne Jung, who hits sixth in the order, three slots down from Bustos. "To get her out, a pitcher is going to try everything. The rest of us get a look at all of her pitches."
The 26-year-old Bustos, who has a .647 slugging percentage and two home runs through the unbeaten U.S.'s first six games, was not always Ms. Long Ball. Twelve years and some 120 pounds ago, she was a switch hitter who, against the preponderance of right-handers, contented herself by slapping the ball from the left side. At 14 she began working with hitting instructor Dale Moore in California, trying to improve bat speed. The strength came gradually. Now the only slapping Bustos appears capable of doing is slapping some pitcher silly. She lets others, like lead-off hitter Natasha Watley (.476 on-base percentage) tap their way on base while she drives them home. Bustos has four RBIs heading into the final round-robin game Friday against Chinese Tapei, three behind Fernandez, the team leader. Even though Fernandez is batting .533, Greece chose to walk Bustos intentionally in the third inning to pitch to Fernandez. The pitcher/clean-up hitter followed by singling home the first American run of the game.
Bustos is a two-time Olympian although the memories of Sydney, even with a gold medal, are bittersweet. Her grandfather, Santos Castro, died during the tournament. "I was really close to him," Bustos said. "He lived with us every since I can remember. The last game he saw was against Cuba." When her mother informed Bustos of the death, the former shortstop announced she was going home. "My mother said, 'That's what I thought you'd say,'" Bustos recalled. "So she put me on the phone back home with my brother, Gabriel. He said everything was under control and there was nothing I could do. He was the one who convinced me to stay."
Bustos returned home less than a week later with a gold medal; the family buried Castro together. In sunny Athens as the USA juggernaut continues to, well, jugger, the only shadow for Bustos is the one she casts in the batter's box.