By: Kerry Lester of the Daily Herald
Long after the Northern League Flyers had finished signing autographs, uniform-clad girls excitedly tossed bright yellow balls over the dugout of the National Pro-Fastpitch Bandits to their heroes.
"I want to be Jennie Finch!" 11-year-old Melissa Goldberg of Lake Zurich rattled excitedly, clutching a freshly signed ball inside her mitt.
"Yeah! Me too!" her 9-year-old sister, Rachel, seconded.
Around the stadium, dozens of park district and travel softball teams could be spotted in their respective jerseys watching the women take on the men in the "Battle of the Sexes II," the local sequel to the 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs.
Attendance was so heavy that the original 7:05 p.m. game time was pushed back by 30 minutes.
The record-breaking crowd of 8,918 smashed the Flyers' season average of 4,200.
"We thought it was the perfect end-of-season party," said Steve Burns, coach of the 8- and 9-year-old Bartlett Park District Sidewinders, who had the chance to take the field with the Bandits during the national anthem.
The match grew out of a rivalry between Bandits President Bill Sokolis and his Flyers counterpart, Rich Ehrenreich, fueled by trash talking between the sexes.
But unlike the '70s grudge match between the publicly sexist Riggs and grand slam titleholder King, women arguably had the upper hand. Or the underhand, to be more precise.
The "Battle" was played by National Fastpitch rules, including underhand pitching at roughly 65 miles per hour.
Bandits pitcher Eileen Canney, with a 9-1 season record, struck out three straight in the second inning: right fielder Victor Ferrante, left fielder Jeff Dunbar and designated hitter Richard Mercado.
As ringers, the Flyers brought in Australian softball pitcher Andrew Blackshaw and Amateur Softball Association Men's Major Fastpitch pitchers Brian Tobin and Jason Iuli. Blackshaw plays for his country's Queensland team and was recently named a member of the 2009 Australian national team.
The game remained scoreless until the third inning when Flyers' third baseman Tony Mansolino hit a double to drive in two runs. The Bandits scored their first run in the fourth after Blackshaw, seemingly rattled, hit first baseman Samantha Findlay in the helmet with the bases loaded, minutes after he had pegged short stop Tammy Williams.
In the fifth, center fielder Rachel Folden hit a single down the right field line to drive in two runs. An unearned run on a pitcher's error brought the score to 4-2, where it remained at game's end.
Maybe the game proved right 8-year-old Katrina Smith of Bartlett's theory that "girls rule and boys drool."
The outcome, however, wasn't the point of the evening for many fans.
"My son plays baseball, my daughter plays softball," Dan Murin of Island Lake said. "Everybody's into this