At 6 feet 2 and 177 pounds, she is taller than Nolan Ryan and throws as fast. A fly ball gets hit to the outfield off her about once every 112 pitches. She has resisted pitching against major-league hitters, such as Mike Schmidt, because it would be unfair -- to Schmidt.
In pitching, there are Don Larsen perfect games and perfect games, and by now Kathy Arendsen must be thinking that just about anyone with decent heat and a hop ought to be able to get every hitter out every few games. Last year, she had 11 perfect games, 14 no-hitters and 30 shutouts.
"I've come within one strikeout of my dream game," she said.
That would be truly perfect. She wants to fan every batter she faces in a seven-inning game, all 21 of them. That 20-K game came earlier this season, the only splotch being a foul popup to the catcher.
Couldn't she have dropped it?
"Naw," Arendsen said, "it came in the second inning. Besides, I wouldn't want anything like that done. You never know how hard the batter might hit the next pitch."
Yes, we do. Not very or not at all. Arendsen is being too modest. Even excellent women's softball hitters find it nearly impossible to get solid aluminum on the confounding assortment of hops and drops she whips at them at 96 miles per hour from 40 feet.
Suzie Gaw, a splendid hitter for average and power, skipped back to her Sun City Saints teammates the other day after groundinn out against Arendsen. Smiling, gleeful, she said: "I touched it."
Later, after Arendsen won her 26th straight game this season, a two-hit shutout in the National Sports Festival, Gaw recalled other bad times at the plate against the best women's softball pitcher in the world. Gaw has punched out a hit or two against Arendsen; what she remembers most vividly is a loud foul.
"She was as amazed as I was that I hit it that far," said Gaw.
With 16 home runs this season, three of them in this tournament, and an above-.300 average, Gaw is one of the few hitters to earn complete respect from Arendsen. This is evident by thenumber of changeups Arendsen throws, and spectators can almost hear the vertebrae snap as Gaw tries to screech her swing to a halt and recock the bat.
"Against her," Gaw said in genuine awe, "you're satisfied just to meet the ball."
The 22-year-old Arendsen is a native of Michigan who attended college in Texas and California and now pitches for the Raybestos Brakettes in Stratford, Conn. Such is life for anyone unique in women's softball, for a talent fast pitch devotees know follows in a progression that began with Bertha Tickey and continued with Joan Joyce.
Like them, Arendsen is both brilliant and boring, faster even than most picketing pitchers and throwing off that windmill delivery 20 feet closer to the plate than major-league distance. Also, the larger softball rises and dips more dramatically than a baseball.
This is serious softball we're talking here, not that sissy slow pitch slop over-the-hill fatties have made so popular. The third and first basepersons are so close that when the batter wipes the sweat off her forehead they jump out of the way. Anything out of the infield is unusual; more than two runs a game is cause for ecstacy.
So gifted, men and women, are pitchers at this level that rules sometimes must be bent for the good of the sport, or to keep most of the spectators from falling asleep or leaving. If Arendsen faced a pitcher her equal, one game might last a month, nonstop. That 33-inning minor-league binge that got so much attention would scarcely draw notice in fast-pitch softball.
Softball is not an Olympic sport, but quite popular at the NSF. And to keep games from dragging on too long a new rule is being used this year. If a game is tied after the ninth, or the second extra inning, each team begins each at-bat with a person on second base.
It's a handicap, though not a serious one for arendsen. With that disadvantage for seveninnings, she still prevailed, in the 16th, in an early round game. Arendsen does not like the change; neither do her opponents. They would like the runner moved even closer to scoring position, like halfway down the thirdbase line.
If Arendsen was born with exceptional pitching ability, it was not evident immediately. At 12, she played first base and the outfield in an adult league and took to the mound only under duress. In high school, there were tryouts for pitcher, and when Arendsen was the fastest her coach all but ordered her to keep at it.
"The speed was always there," said her father, John, "but she had a couple over-the-backstoppers. She had some real problems with her control." Apparently, John was a limited athlete, for he tilts his head back now and then and says: "Never believed a kid of mine could do it."
She has. Arendsen is outgoing and polite, a terrific salesperson for her sport. And she will not do anything to degrade it. If it will benefit softball, she will perform against major-league hitters, although the ones who recall Ted Williams' frustration against Joyce probably will decline.
Williams was in the twilight of his career when he agreed to swing at the buggywhip bullets of Joyce, according to Bill Plummer III, communications coordinator for the Amateur Softball Association of America, and simply walked away after repeated misses.
"Baseball players aren't used to the sharp up-and-down angles of our pitches," said Arendsen, whose ball rises as much as 15 inches at times. Imagine standing at the plate as she lets lose a high-90s riser. You might actually see the ball, get ready to swat it as it darts at you, letter-high. Then it snaps up, as though somebody pulled on an unseen string, and you'd have a better chance hitting a gnat.
At 50, Bertha Tickey was making fools of very good women hitters. That natural way of throwing allows pitchers to last for decades, makes some even stronger. There is another 18-year-old phenom here some insist might take a run at Arendsen sometime. Already, she has the more appropriate name for somebody capable of being so overwhelming. Batters even now are regularly waving bye-bye to Debbie Doom.