Single page view By Mary Buckheit

NEW YORK -- The only thing more imposing to me than the 25-block trek through unfamiliar Harlem streets was the thought that I might fan against a 13-year-old girl.

So as I headed into New York Tuesday to try to squeak a hit off Sammi Kane Kraft, the hard-hurling Little Leaguer-turned-movie star, I was nervous. After all, she'd recently struck out the side -- every side -- for an entire game. And that was just one of the impressive tidbits I'd dug up while I Googled news about Sammi's natural athleticism and comprehensive arsenal of sinkers, sliders and nasty 70 mph fastballs.

Sammi Kane Kraft & Mary Buckheit
Sammi Kane Kraft had no idea what she was in for from our own Mary Buckheit.

But with my apprehensions (and humility) checked at the dugout door, I'd accepted the invitation to take my cuts against the phenom at an RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) media event on the Upper East Side. Behind a garish grin and under the glare of the summer sun, I faced the wrath of Sammi Kane Kraft.

Two days later, I have to admit: I'm still pretty sore.

It must be from raising that finger as I called my shot to left field.

I took the kid deep.

It had to be done.

* * * * *

Sammi has been well-known on the California Little League circuit for years. But recently, she's been making Hollywood headlines as the feisty female in this summer's remake of the 1976 classic "The Bad News Bears," which opens Friday. Unlike Tatum O'Neal, the original Amanda Whurlitzer who is the daughter of actor Ryan O'Neal and who had already appeared in "Paper Moon" before her turn in the first "Bad News Bears," Sammi hadn't acted a day in her life when she stepped in front of the camera with Billy Bob Thornton.

A Junior Olympian, she earned the role with her convincing skills on the baseball diamond.

Bad News for this Bear ESPN Motion
Knowing all this, I agonized over the fact that my pride might be the only thing taking a hit in front of the New York City crowd gathered to see the cute blonde in pigtails ring me up like a cash register.

I would have none of that.

Sammi can play. And I should know, because it wasn't that long ago that I was a little junior mint like her, lacing up my pink Pumas and putting in my time with the fellas in youth baseball. Like Sammi, I made my fair share of little boys cry their eyes out in shame before I moved on to fast-pitch softball and a single-season, record-setting .564 batting average in high school and then four years as a starting shortstop in a D-I college program. Sure, that was three years ago; but I figured I shouldn't be totally washed up at the ripe age of 24 -- no matter how many times I take the elevator to get to the vending machines just two floors up.

So what was I worried about? She's 13!

Still, ever since the Sammi summons, I'd been haunted by that age-old inquiry of the once-upon-a-time athlete …

Do I still have it?

That question cast an uncertainty over everything I hoped to prove against this little chicken wing. I wondered if my batting gloves were still stowed in the side pocket of the duffel bag where I'd shoved them after my last game. I wondered how long it would take my hamstrings to recover from a two-hour train ride down from Bristol. I wondered how quickly Tom Emanski could ship me that timeless tutorial of his, or if Harold Reynolds would give me the company discount on some tips from Tony Gwynn.


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