Two very different sports worlds collide next week when the women's National Pro Fastpitch Bandits travel to Alexian Field in Schaumburg to take on the Northern League Flyers.
It pits softball against baseball and, not to put too fine a point on it, a major-league team against a minor-league squad, but most of all it pits women against men in what's being promoted as "Battle of the Sexes II," the grudge-match sequel to Bobby Riggs' tennis tussle with Billie Jean King in 1973.
The far older Riggs, keep in mind, lost that ballyhooed made-for-TV event, lost it convincingly, and while there are a completely different set of circumstances this time around the women, against all odds, might just have the upper hand again going into the game.
Set for Monday, July 27, the game might find the Flyers with the home-field advantage, but it will be played according to women's fastpitch softball rules, a distinct advantage for the Bandits. They have pitchers skilled at the intricate, demanding windmill underhanded delivery - and not just Jennie Finch. The Flyers, on the other hand, do not.
"That's the hardest part. The rest of the game is similar," said Flyers General Manager Ben Burke. "Pitching is different. I don't have a guy, I don't think, who can pitch well. Not that they can't pitch. But the girls might take batting practice off the guys we throw out there."
Bill Sokolis, president of the Bandits, said he wasn't expecting to see the Flyers' Carmen Pignatiello, a former Cub, on the mound, but then again he wouldn't put it past the Flyers to pull a fast one - a fastpitch underhanded fast one, that is.
"There are a lot of men's fastpitch teams out there," Sokolis said, "so I don't know if he's calling someone in or not. He might have a ringer he knows. But it doesn't matter, because they're not going to hit our pitching either."
Burke said only that he might "leave it up to a surprise."
"They might recruit a men's fastpitcher," acknowledged Jamie Schloredt, the Bandits' backup catcher. "We'll be prepared for whatever they have."
The match grew out of a trash-talking rivalry between Sokolis and his Flyer counterpart, Rich Ehrenreich. "My friend Bill Sokolis has been bragging for years that his women could outplay our men at their game," Ehrenreich said when the match was first announced. "So I finally asked him, 'Are you saying what I think you're saying?' We looked at each other, and then we both got serious."
"I have daughters, and he's always liked baseball, so yeah, a little trash talking went back and forth," Sokolis said. "And he said something about, 'Well, you got Jennie Finch back, so now's as good a time as any.' And I said, 'I don't need Jennie Finch.' Oh yeah, we're having fun with it."
Finch pitched a perfect game shortly after her return, but as of mid-July she was 4-1, third on the team in both wins and innings, behind unbeaten 7-0 Eileen Canney and 6-3 Kristina Thorson. So while the Flyers might bring in one ringer, the Bandits have a wealth of options at pitcher. The Bandits are also defending champions of National Pro Fastpitch, the premier women's professional softball league, and are atop the five-team circuit again this season at an impressive 20-4. The Flyers, by contrast, are hovering around .500 in the independent Northern League, a minor league unaffiliated with Major League Baseball.
The game also grows out of the natural trash talking between the sexes. "It's something everybody wants to see," Schloredt said. "I know ever since I was in high school I've always wanted to play the boys, because they've always said they can hit what we hit better than us." She said the Bandits share that to a woman. "They've all had the same things said to them," she added, "about not being as good. It's a chance to show people out there that softball is hard."
"They were a little leery at first," Sokolis said of the Bandits, "because guys against girls, but they know they're not going to be able to hit the ball as well as against overhand pitching."
Burke said the Flyers shared that mix of excitement with maybe a little dread. "They're excited, and then kind of curious at the same time," he said. Some have had experience playing fastpitch softball, coed or not, he added, "and they know how different it is and how hard it is. Other guys have never, ever seen it."
He's thought about bringing in a recreation-league pitcher for some batting practice to get them prepared, he said, "but you know, every time I want to do that, it's probably more important that these guys go see some live pitching and get ready for Fargo tomorrow."
Could be just the right excuse, if it turns out he needs one.
Chicago Bandits vs. Schaumburg Flyers
"Battle of the Sexes II"
7:05 p.m. Monday, July 27
Alexian Field, 1999 S. Springinsguth Rd., Schaumburg
Tickets: $6 to $12, available by calling (847) 891-2255 or at flyersbaseball.com.