August 19, 2008 / 11:10 AM / 10 years ago

Bustos the heart and soul of U.S. team

BEIJING (Reuters) - Jennie Finch may be the face of women’s softball but it is U.S. team mate Crystl Bustos whose heart provides the beat for the most dominating team at the Beijing Games.

Crystl Bustos of the U.S. hits a two-run home run off a ball from Australia's Tanya Harding in the first inning of their softball gold medal game at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games, August 23, 2004. REUTERS/Tami Chappell

While Finch and many of her team mates look as if they just walked out of swimsuit photo shoot (Finch turned down an offer to pose for Playboy), Bustos’s allure is on the baseball diamond and she makes no apologies for it.

Looking as if she could bench press any one of her team mates with her thick tattooed arms, Bustos admits she was well known to local police growing up in California and was a regular visitor to the principal’s office for fighting.

But the woman Sport Illustrated as labeled the Babe Ruth of softball, is by all accounts a slugger with a heart of gold.

“She is probably the most giving, caring person I have ever met in this game,” U.S. coach Mike Candrea told Reuters. “She gives back much more than she ever takes from this game.”

With two Olympic gold medals and a third just two wins away, Bustos continues to take from softball.

But with retirement coming after the final out of the gold medal game on Thursday — the same day softball will be officially dropped from the Olympic program — Bustos is planning to put her time into her fledgling foundation to help kids play softball when their parents cannot afford the cost.

The 30-year-old slugger has also promised the International Softball Federation (ISF) and USA Softball she will work tirelessly, go anywhere and do anything to help bring sport back into the Olympics.

But before that there will be the small bit of unfinished business, a golden ending to her career. The U.S. is 7-0 with six shutouts and appears primed to win their fourth straight Olympic title.

“I haven’t really thought about it, I know I won’t play anymore after this but I’ve been focused on what we are trying to do,” Bustos said recently. “But I guess, today was one of those last days.

“I’m pretty much out there, when it comes to me, I focus on one thing and when I focus on that one thing nothing else matters.”

ROCKET LAUNCHER

The most dominating hitter women’s softball has ever known, Bustos strikes fear into opposing pitchers each time she saunters to the plate, an aluminum bat resting softly on her shoulders like a rocket-launcher ready to be fired.

Like all sluggers of lore, she walks with a swagger and possesses a paralyzing ‘don’t mess with me’ scowl that leaves outfielders trembling.

With good reason.

At the 2004 Athens Games, Bustos hammered an Olympic record five home runs.

She has put four more into the Beijing bleachers bringing her career Games record to 12.

Crystl Bustos (R) of the U.S. celebrates with team mate Lovieanne Jung after scoring in the third inning against Taiwan during their women's preliminaries softball game at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games August 16, 2008. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok

“The girl is a beast,” said U.S. pitcher Monica Abbott. “I face her all the time during scrimmages an she’s not fun to face, so I know how they (opposing pitchers) are feeling.

“She’s a beast and she is going to get the job done.

“What do other pitchers think when Boo comes to the plate?....Uh, oh.”

Editing by Steve Ginsburg

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