By David Leon Moore
April, 22 2002
LOS ANGELES — Not that long ago, college women's
softball on the highest level was a series of
mind-numbing, extra-inning, scoreless duels dominated
by fireballing hurlers who overmatched baffled hitters
standing only 40 feet away.
The turning point in a game was often a walk or an
error. Two hits in the same inning was an offensive
Would-be hitters regularly lamented, "Well, it sounded
like a strike."
Home runs? Only in their dreams.
Sue Enquist, the UCLA coach, played in softball's
deadball era. In the late 1970s, she was as good a
hitter as the game knew, setting a UCLA record with
her .401 career batting average.
Although home run statistics from that era are sketchy
(indicative of how small a role slugging played),
Enquist is believed to have finished her four-year
UCLA career with a grand total of four.
In 1978, Enquist graduated ... and Stacey Nuveman was
As Nuveman (NOOV-man) grew up — and up — and became
one of the best young softball hitters in the Los
Angeles area, the sport underwent major rules and
equipment changes to bring offense into the game.
In 1988, the distance from the pitcher's mound to the
plate was extended from 40 feet to 43 feet. In 1993,
the white ball was replaced with an optic yellow ball.
Bats continued to generate more pop.
As Nuveman fell in love with the sport, she loved the
changes that were occurring.
"People want to see runs, and they want to see home
runs," she says. "As a softball junkie, I appreciated
a good pitchers' duel. But for John and Jane Smith in
Middle America, they want to see some good
So does she.
"Chicks love the long ball," she says, laughing, "but
they also love hitting the long ball."
Nuveman's physical maturity arrived about the same
time the home run became a major force in the game, a
confluence that has resulted in softball fireworks of
Meet softball's Queen of Clout.
Nuveman, 23, UCLA's senior catcher from LaVerne,
Calif., goes into Wednesday's Pacific-10 game at home
against No. 9 Washington needing two home runs to
break the NCAA career record of 85 shared by former
Arizona players Leah Braatz and Laura Espinoza.
Nuveman hit 20 homers as a freshman. She blasted 31
her sophomore year, zooming past the previous UCLA
career record of 30 early in that season. After taking
a year off to play in the Olympics, where she hit a
game-winning homer in a semifinal game for the gold
medal U.S. team, she returned to hit 19 more as a
She has 14 this season with 10 regular-season games to
go for a team that is 40-6, ranked No. 2 and hoping to
win its 10th national championship.
"It looks like it's going to happen," she says of the
record. "I wouldn't say I'm particularly nervous or
excited about it. The most important thing for me is
to perform to win. I want more than anything to win a
national championship. But I'm pretty sure the record
will feel awesome. It will definitely mean something."
Just like Barry, Mark and Sammy
Nuveman's rise to power has pretty much mirrored what
Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds have done in
the major leagues. Though some women in softball
bristle at the comparison with baseball, as if their
sport can't stand on its own merits, it is a
comparison Nuveman and her coach embrace.
"I love being compared to baseball," Enquist says.
"There are wonderful things we can learn from that
sport. Anytime I've got the media comparing Stacey
Nuveman to Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire, I look at
that as a huge compliment."
The McGwire analogy seems particularly fitting.
Nuveman, too, is a tall (6 feet), blond,
broad-shouldered, muscular Californian. In fact, her
high school, St. Lucy's Priory in Glendora, Calif., an
all-girls Catholic school, is the sister school to
McGwire's high school, all-boys Damien in LaVerne.
The amazing distance of McGwire's home runs was
produced in great part from his massive 250-pound
frame, and Bonds' numbers shot up when he put on some
extra muscle last year. Nuveman prefers to keep her
weight to herself; the weights of the UCLA players are
not listed in the team's media guide.
Enquist would like to put the weights in the media
guide one day.
"We'll have come full circle when the weights all go
in there and we're treated just like the guys and
looked at in terms of athletes," she says. "But until
Madison Avenue changes that whole mind-set, it's not
going to happen.
"You don't look at Barry Bonds and say, 'Wow, he's
really big.' You say, 'Man, he's built.' Stacey
Nuveman is one of the strongest athletes on the team.
She is built. She has a great athletic frame."
Listening and learning
Nuveman says she likes to listen to baseball's
sluggers talk hitting.
"I particularly enjoyed McGwire," she says. "I read a
couple of articles with him talking about all the
things he's thinking about before he steps into the
box vs. when he gets in there to hit. When he gets
into the box, he's not thinking about anything. He's
just looking at the release point.
"As a hitter, that's beautiful to hear that kind of
thing, to see that absolute focus and concentration,
that kind of peaceful calm he has before absolutely
ripping a 500-foot bomb. I feel I've learned from
She's learned a lot more about hitting, though, than
just how to go deep. In fact, Enquist resists calling
Nuveman the greatest home run hitter in softball
history because that label, she says, unfairly limits
her full range of excellence.
After all, this is a hitter who is batting .542 for
the season with a slugging percentage — 1.034 — that
is practically comical. (Bonds, when he hit a record
73 homers last year, also set a record for slugging
percentage at .863.) She also has displayed the
discipline, with some pitchers avoiding throwing her
strikes, to take 47 walks in 46 games.
"I think it would be fair to say that Stacey Nuveman
is the most prolific hitter in the history of
softball," Enquist says. "I think that's a really fair
statement to make."
Enquist says she hasn't the slightest twinge of regret
that her UCLA career batting average record is going
to be shattered by Nuveman, whose career mark is .465.
"I couldn't be more thrilled," she says, "and the
reason is because of the person who is doing it. She's