It's an annual spring offering at UCLA, like Thetas in shorts and tank tops, Zetes in Hawaiian shirts and thongs and surfboards strapped to the back of Daddy's Mercedes. It's called Cruising for Guys 101, and it meets every weekday afternoon about 2:30 near the athletic complex. It's a pass/fail course for as many units as you like.
"Let's cut through Pauley Pavilion," says Tracy Compton, a sophomore pitcher on the UCLA women's softball team.
"Naw, let's go around," says Debbie Doom, another sophomore pitcher. "I'm not into it."
"This way's shorter," Compton says, dragging Doom in to check out the action. On the courts several pickup basketball games are in progress. In the stands sit three UCLA basketball players, including Kenny Fields. Compton downshifts. Doom, uninterested, unfazed and just along for the ride, keeps walking. She wants to get to softball practice.
"When you going to pitch to me?" Fields says.
"Never," Compton says, flashing a flirtatious grin. Doom shakes her head.
"All the guys think they can hit us," Compton says as she nears the door. "Especially the basketball team. We practice inside when it's raining, and they're always bugging us. Last year, we pitched against Wilt Chamberlain. I struck him out on three pitches."
"I slowed the ball down and let him get a hit," Doom says, closing the door behind them.
"Now," Compton says, "wasn't that fun?" Doom rolls her eyes.
Compton and Doom are the best pair of softball pitchers in the country and the two biggest reasons why UCLA is a good bet to win its second straight championship at the NCAA finals, beginning May 25 in Omaha. Both are righthanders, tall—Compton is 5'10", Doom 6'1"—and have minuscule ERAs. But they are as different as Marilyn Monroe and Margaret Mead.
"Tracy's my little blonde bombshell," says Coach Sharron Backus, ignoring the rather obvious fact that Compton isn't blonde. "She's breaking hearts all over campus."
Compton, the hardest thrower in women's softball, has a 21-1 record this season, with 17 shutouts, 162 strikeouts and an 0.04 ERA. At a recent practice she took to the pitcher's circle—there is no mound in women's softball—to show off her style: pink lipstick, a touch of mascara,-a bit of eye shadow, a dab of blush, a whiff of perfume, hair in jumbles of long, thick curls pulled back with barrettes of Bruin blue to match her uniform. "I'm missing a beach party in Malibu right now," she says.
Compton scuffs the dirt and exclaims, "A beach party!" and slaps the ball into her glove. "My stomach was growling so much in math class today that I had to leave early. I was so embarrassed."
Then, faster than you can say little brunette bombshell, Compton winds up and fires her 80-mph fastball. Zzziiippp. She never has to think about her delivery; she just does it.
"If she thought about anything, she wouldn't do well," Backus says. "She'd get all pent up. She just has to do it."
At first it appears that the ball will cross the plate at about the top of the batter's socks, but suddenly it takes off and rises above waist level. Pow. The ball slams into Catcher Shelly Aguilar's mitt. Swwwinnggg. Compton hoots and does a little jig.
"Tracy loves life," says three-time All-America Shortstop Dot Richardson. "She likes herself, and she radiates confidence. She's drinking everything in."
"I like to go out and get it over with," says Compton. "I don't like to overanalyze anything. That's why I'm a math major—there's always one set answer, and it doesn't take long to find it."
Then Compton, who has a 2.6 academic average, does a cartwheel on her way over to the bench. "My fastball can go anywhere," she says, after she stops spinning. "I never know which way my wrist will snap.... Oh, I'm a mess. Let me get my brush.... Did anyone see All My Children?"
Meanwhile, Doom is warming up in the bullpen. She is from Tempe, Ariz. and is shy and analytical. She wouldn't do a cartwheel if she pitched a perfect game. She also hates to dress up. "These are 38-inch legs," she says. "When you have size 11 feet, you live in tennis shoes." She avoids makeup and only combs her hair between innings to keep it out of her eyes.
Doom has super control and the biggest repertoire of pitches in college softball. Her opponents are truly doomed: She is 16-4 this season, with 15 shutouts, 197 strikeouts and an ERA of 0.28.
Off the field, she is so serious about softball that she spends hours working out in front of a mirror and stays awake at night visualizing hitters and mapping out her game plan. Is it any wonder that she's a psychology major (GPA: 2.9)? "I've got to concentrate to do well," she says. She keeps to herself and holds a lot inside. She is still adjusting to Westwood and having to live "a whole state away" from home. She grew up in a close family and took on the responsibility of caring for her Uncle Wayne, who has cerebral palsy. Last year, she even had second thoughts about coming to UCLA because she didn't want to leave him. "My uncle's my biggest fan," she says. "He went to all my games before I got here. He kept my stats in his head."
On the field, Doom is such a perfectionist that she takes forever to throw each pitch: She puts the ball in her glove. She licks her fingers. She sighs. She brushes back her hair. She crouches. She studies her right foot. She adjusts her weight....
"My outfielders say they can't even blink or they'll miss my pitch." Compton says. "When Doomer is pitching, you can write a term paper between pitches."
If you're grading, mark that A +. The Bruins ended the regular season last week with a 35-5 record and the No. 1 ranking in the country. They not only have the best pitching staff and, in Richardson, the best shortstop around, but they also have smarts. They have the highest grade average of any team at UCLA (3.3), and they're the only team at the school that doesn't have any member on academic probation.
In NCAA regular-season competition, teams play two seven-inning games against each opponent. UCLA has not lost a doubleheader this season. "Because Tracy and Debbie have different styles," says Backus, a former shortstop with the Amateur Softball Association's perennially formidable Raybestos Brakettes, "it's difficult for batters to adjust. Tracy throws heat. By the time batters have her figured out, the game's over. Debbie's so tall and her windup is so slow that it mesmerizes hitters. She takes a long stride, and when she releases the ball it seems like it's right out in front of you. Then, boom, it's there. And the doubleheader is over."
At eight, Compton started pitching for a Pee Wee team called the Peacocks in the Santa Maria, Calif. rec league. When she was 11, her father, Charles, who was her first and only coach until Backus, thought Tracy should graduate from an underhand, slingshot delivery to the adult windmill style. "And I demolished the backyard fence," she says.
As a little kid, Doom was a bowler in Minneapolis, where she lived until moving with her family to Tempe when she was 11. There her father, Dave, signed her up for a softball team called the Firefighters. Father and daughter worked on pitching every night behind their house. When Debbie was 14, her father sought out Hank Duffy, a local softball coach, and, under the lights of the tennis courts in a nearby park, Doomsday dawned. Duffy showed Debbie how to use her height to her advantage—to extend her stride to the edge of the pitching circle, and to disguise her pitches by releasing the ball at calf level rather than at her hip. She discovered she had a natural downspin on the ball, which gave her a drop pitch that fell six inches. She added a rise and a changeup and became too good for her high school team. So, at 17, she joined the Sun City Saints, an ASA team made up of women 10 or 15 years her senior. "Even the cheerleaders were 65," Doom says.
So, with all this success and natural talent and beauty, who needs to take Cruising for Guys 101? "Well," says Compton, looking as if she were about ready to turn another cartwheel, "you can never be too sure."
Compton (left) fires her blazer in a hurry, while Doom lets her breaking balls loose after a deliberate windup.
Before facing opposing hitters, Tracy does homework: a dab of this, a puff of that.