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Sarah Pileggi
December 06, 1982
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December 06, 1982

Can A Woman Play Big League Ball? A New Movie Makes A Pitch For It

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Movie stars have been discovered in odd places, like drug stores, and predictable places, like chorus lines, but Robyn Barto was probably the first actress ever discovered playing leftfield. The North Lady Trotters slow-pitch softball team from Broward Community College in Florida was playing in a tournament in Miami last February when Barto was approached by Michaels and Casting Director Dee Miller. Robyn not only had the look ("young, cute, likable, wholesome") and the athleticism ("she walks like an athlete") that Michaels was seeking, but she also turned out to be able to deliver a line pretty well.

"What's necessary in a non-professional," says Michaels, "is a lack of inhibition, a natural charm and an ability to get past nervousness about saying lines."

"From the beginning Robyn wasn't worried about the acting, only the ball playing," says Miller. "She didn't want a double. She wanted to do it all herself."

After two weeks of being coached in the nuances of hitting a major league fastball by former Yankee Batting Coach Joe Pepitone and the team's minor league Pitching Coach Stan Saleski, Barto was on her own. In the seven weeks of shooting that took place after the Yankees left their Fort Lauderdale digs last spring, she was called upon to hit, run, throw and steal, and to give a credible performance as a second baseman over and over again. Her hands were blistered, then calloused from swinging a 32-ounce bat hundreds of times each day. No one in the cast, which includes enough actors to comprise two baseball teams—the Devils and the Memphis Blues, an exhibition-game opponent—took as much of a physical beating as the 5'7", 120-pound Barto did. A headfirst slide into second base had to be filmed at least six times for various technical reasons. Another slide left her right knee bruised and bleeding. "I've got so many wraps on," she said one day in the Devils' dugout as the company nurse changed the dressing on her battered knee, "that I could take all my clothes off and nobody would notice."

All the while, Barto was being observed and judged, not only by the director, the cameramen and the professional actors—Harry Hamlin as the owner, Mimi Rogers as the agent, Kenneth McMillan as the Devils' manager and Dana Alcar as a former player-turned-agent—but, perhaps most critically, by the Devils themselves.

Ray Negron, a former shortstop in the Pirates' farm chain, plays Jerry Washburne, the Devils' shortstop. "He's supposed to be a super shortstop who's not too bright," says Negron, deadpanning. "So it's a challenging role."

When Negron's playing days, which lasted one season (1975), were over, he went to work for the Yankees as the man who videotaped their games for coaching purposes and eventually became friendly with Reggie Jackson, who, he says, led him into acting by helping to get him parts in TV commercials. "The best acting school I ever went to was Yankee Stadium," says Negron. "And the best acting teacher was George Steinbrenner, though Reggie was pretty good, too."

About Barto, Negron says, "They could have signed somebody like Kristy McNichol, but she wouldn't have been able to give you the job Robyn can. You know, for a girl, she can play. I think the audience is going to be very impressed. She throws hard. She had a little problem with the hitting part, but that's natural. I had a problem with the hitting part, and I'm an ex-professional."

Jeff Rosenberg, who plays Tube, a relief pitcher, was a defensive lineman at East Texas State and played semi-pro ball in baseball's Mexican League in the off-season. Now he teaches handicapped children in Chattanooga. Rosenberg Coached Barto regularly in one of the batting cages alongside the Fort Lauderdale stadium.

"She had a problem with a hitch in her swing," says Rosenberg. "In Softball you have time to wait a little longer, so you have time to do that. In baseball you have to react quicker. But she does a good job. I stand back there and throw it to her and I get some line shots."

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