Silver Bullets come to Cooperstown
When Phil Niekro was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame Aug. 3, 1997, thousands of fans gathered in Cooperstown to celebrate the 300-win knuckleballer, including 34 additional living Hall of Famers.
Also in attendance on that sunny afternoon was a group who knew him not just as an ace, but as a manager: The Colorado Silver Bullets.
The Silver Bullets were an all-women’s baseball team founded “with the purpose to provide a nurturing environment for top women athletes to learn and play professional baseball against existing men’s teams within the ranks of minor league, semi-pro, college, and amateur baseball.”
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Or, as former pitcher Missy Coombes put it in 1995, “Basically, the goal of this whole thing is to prove that women, if given the opportunity, can play baseball.”
Initially approached by Silver Bullets Club President and former Atlanta Braves executive Bob Hope in 1993, Phil Niekro managed the team for the duration of their existence, and went so far as to salute his players during his Induction speech.
“This is America. This is the land of the free and the home of the brave, and all [these women] want is a chance to play baseball and an opportunity. And I figure that’s what this country can give them.”
“I’m honored and very privileged to be a part of an organization like that for the last four years…the Colorado Silver Bullets."
Niekro’s induction was not the first time the Silver Bullets had ventured to baseball’s hometown. On June 25, 1995, they faced off against the Otsego Macs at historic Doubleday Field.
The Silver Bullets were on a hot streak coming in to Cooperstown, having bested the Montage Phillies and the Capital Region Rockies in their previous two games, but unfortunately didn’t fare so well against the home team, falling to the Macs 9-0.
The matchup drew a reported 3,000 fans and the Silver Bullets impressed all in attendance – including their opponents.
“I really like the way they play the game,” Macs’ first baseman Chris Cavanagh told the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin.
“They play the game the way it should be played…They’ve got good defense, pitching’s good and they swung the bats well. I mean, they ripped some of our guys who throw pretty well…They’re better than people expect.”
The Silver Bullets franchise folded in 1998 due to a lack of funding, but the team’s demise did little to stifle the players’ passion for the game.
More than two decades later, many of the women who took the field in the Silver Bullets uniform continue to be involved in the game. Angie Mentink is an anchor for “Root Sports Northwest” and the host of “Mariners All Access;” Bridget Venturi Veenema coaches clinics as part of the Illinois Girls Baseball program; Jenny Dalton-Hill is a coach and sports commentator; and Laura Espinoza-Watson has created and coached multiple championship travel ball teams.
The list goes on and on because for these women, like so many other players and fans of the game, baseball isn’t just for a season: It’s for life.
Isabelle Minasian was the digital content specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum