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"All right. Let's do it."
"Ready. Engines off, please. Roll."
Behind the plate in an empty baseball stadium, a portly man wearing dark red polyester slacks and a black chest protector is pulling on a face mask. A pitcher and a catcher in full game uniform are warming up as they await the batter. In the foreground, near the on-deck circle, a slim girl with straight brown hair and a mass of freckles on her nose is seated on the grass intently doing her stretching exercises. Beside her on the ground are two bats, a baseball cap, a red batting helmet and an aged red equipment bag that says LAKE HAVASU CITY KNIGHTS on its side. As the girl leans forward, a voice of impatient male authority is heard from the first-base dugout.
"Come on! Let's go!"
The girl looks up and over her right shoulder. "I'm not loose yet," she says.
She stretches a moment longer, then stands up, lifts one of the bats, takes a few practice swings, looks back toward the dugout and says, "Ready." Then she slams on her cap and her batting helmet and takes her place in the batter's box. The ump says, "All right. Play ball."
So went Scene 22, Take 1 of Blue Skies Again, a Lantana Productions film distributed by Warner Bros, that was shot in part last April and May at the New York Yankees' spring training stadium in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. and that is scheduled for release early next year. For movie purposes the park is Kruger Stadium, spring training home of the Denver Devils, a major league team of the expansion variety, owned by a rich businessman of the Ted Turner variety. The main character, the freckled Paula Fradkin, has driven her 1968 Dodge all the way from Lake Havasu, Ariz. to Fort Lauderdale, uninvited and unrecommended, to try out for second base with the Devils. If she makes it she will be the first female major league baseball player. If she doesn't, well, it was a long shot anyway. The main question is, will she get a chance to try? A subplot having to do with the owner and Paula's lady agent (owner meets agent, owner offends agent by his oafishness, owner and agent fall in love—so what else is new?) helps fill the time between baseball scenes. But it is around the fate of Fradkin, who is played by a 20-year-old college softball player named Robyn Barto, that Blue Skies Again revolves.
Actresses have passed as athletes before, often with the help of stand-ins, special cameras and strategic editing. But Blue Skies presented special problems. Show-biz technology can produce wonders, but it can't create an arm where there isn't one. "Every actress I interviewed for the part told me she could throw a ball," says Richard Michaels, the director. "And every one was pretty poor. I mean, they threw like girls. But a good actor and actress won't tell you they can't do something. After about a month I told the producers I thought it was time to start looking at real ballplayers."