A 5-ft., 2-in. left-handed shortstop steps up to the plate. It's a tie ball game--two-all in the fifth--and the infielders shout encouragement to the pitcher and heckle the diminutive hitter. Cheers resound from the batter's bench--"Come on Dr. longball, hit another homer. "The infield, hearing this, takes a few steps back. The pitch: a swing. it's a hit, not a crackling liner that sends the second baseman diving. But rather a dainty dribbler that leaves the third baseman stymied in her shoes as the softball slowly scoots along the third base line and comes to rest not 20 feet from the batters' box.
This scene has not been uncommon this season for the Harvard women's softball team, as co-captain Lisa "Mouse" Bernstein has bouyed and bunted her team into an 11-4 season that saw the squad finish only two games and three runs away from an Ivy League Championship.
Not bad for a first-year varsity team. Even better for a student who didn't think Harvard would field a varsity team in softball, let alone a successful one. "I didn't even think that I would get into Harvard let alone co-captain a winning softball team," she says, somewhat overwhelmed by the whole thing.
Lisa "Mouse" Bernstein, a senior in Leverett House, didn't play softball her first year here. "I only thought that I would have time for basketball," she admits. "In fact, that's where I got my nickname 'mouse'. It was during the halftime of a basketball game, we were losing, and as we dejectedly walked into the locker room all the team could hear was the squeak of my knee-brace--it drove them crazy. That incident combined with my small size and quick little scurry on the court earned me the nickname 'mouse'. The squeak drove them crazy. The nickname drives me crazy."
Bernstein, not one to take herself too seriously, thinks that being elected co-captain of the team (the other captain is Betty Ippolito) has proved a rewarding experience. "I've enjoyed it so much--it's great to have your fellow teamates look up to you, besides it looks good on your resume--I'm so glad I paid them all to vote for me," she quips with a grin.
In two weeks, when the season ends, Bernstein along with many of the other softball players, will receive a varsity letter for her performance this year. "The varsity letter really isn't what's important to me. yeah. I'll get a nice letter sweater for a great senior going away present--that's terrific."
Bernstein, however, feels that the varsity letter just complements the letter grades she's received so far. "The really great think is that Harvard softball is no longer taken as a joke. Even as a club-sport we were out there to play and excel, as ourselves, as athletes; but most important as a team. We did that; all the varsity status does is propel our position to another level."
Varsity status has brought with it a lot of intensity.
"The one thing we didn't do is lose most of our humor and with it our comraderie. Last year, as a club sport, we made mistakes, played alot, and still had a fun time--I'm happy it continued."
She adds, "Last year we often could afford to laugh. We often had to the way we played. In fact, once last year we scheduled a game with Yale--what a mess-up. On the day of the game Yale came up to Cambridge and we went down to New Haven. This year we get to the same field.
Despite the responsibilities of co-captain, she relates that the good still prevail as much as the hard work does in practice. "At the Ivy tournament we had our rooms ransacked by the squad from Brown--they took items and knocked over furniture. We decided to get even and cream them: not only on the field the next day but also in their rooms that night. We sneaked into their rooms and sprayed whipped cream all over them. As we left, a few members of their team managed to catch us in the elevators, and took the spray cans away and squirted them back at us. When the elevator door opened hotel security was standing there and saw the Brown team with the cans. As they went off with security we went off laughing."
Praise comes about as often as line drives to shortstop for this senior spark plug. "When I first met her I thought no way--a left-handed shortstop. Consequently, I put her in center-field--never again--she was meant to be a shortstop" Coach Kit Morris says.
"Overall, she's a tough defensive player, and the best bunter I've ever seen. her placement on the bunts would exasperate any defender. Lisa has honed that skill to a science: once in a game against Princeton she bunted on base three times each with the infield moved in on her, he adds.
Bernstein also tends to produce a surprise every now and then. "If you had said a year ago that she would have two home runs I would, have fallen down laughing." Morris says. With three games left this year. Bernstein has statistics that would make Dave Winfield wince and George Steinbrenner feels shortchanged: 51 at bats. 27 hits. 15 RBI's. 24 runs, two homers and a 529 average.
Bernstein explains why she took the shortstop position. "I can't play first base, the usual lefty position, because of my height, and I can't throw far or well--only fast--so I decided to play shortstop. Besides, I'm too hyper for the outfield and I'm not a preppie"--gently ribbing her friend and co-captain Betty Ippolito who along with the other outfielders went to private school.
She is just as quick to hand out compliments as the friendly barbs and banter thrown around the locker room. "My job as co-captain is to keep Betty under control--no really Betty and I tend to propel one another. She is an ideal person for the job; she gets the work done, isn't flashy, exudes pride and leadership and inspires us all."
On Coach Kit Morris, she notes. "He has all the patience and perseverance to mold our team from a mediocre club sport to a winning varsity one. Kit made us practice at 7 a.m. every February morning. He said if we really wanted to win this is what we had to do. We practiced more indoors in the preseason than all of last year outdoors. he was right. It paid off--he's a superb coach."
Coming into her senior year Lisa Bernstein had three main goals--besides softball. One was to pass all of her courses and graduate on time. Second was to enjoy her senior year, and third was to find a job for when she got out. Sipping beer, Lisa explains the job offer she accepted from a computer company in Oregon. She turned and asks, smiling, "Guess which goal I lave left to pass--I mean attain?"
Summing up the year, and Harvard, she says. "It's been a challenge but I've enjoyed it. I'm ready to get out of school--not to work, but to start the summer. Well as for the nickname 'mouse'--eh, it's safe--it could be worse; as for my fellow softball palyers, they couldn't be better."