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Bustos talks of silver and gold

Olympic Games home run leader speaks frankly

Posted: September 6, 2008 10:47 p.m.
Updated: November 8, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Crystl Bustos, a third baseman on the Team USA Softball Olympic team, a graduate of Canyon High, is shown recently in Newhall, wearing two gold medals and one silver medal.

 

Her brand new Olympic silver medal is bound to look like her two golds.

The jade circle inside the medal will probably fade.

The ribbon will tatter.

The outer rim of the medal likely will be nicked and scratched.

An explanation for which is found from her father.

What do these three Olympic softball medals mean to Crystl Bustos?

"You want me to tell you the truth?" asks George Bustos, about to let out a revelation. "Not much."

You have to know and understand Crystl Bustos, the most feared hitter in Olympic softball history, before passing judgment on a comment so blasphemous to the sport.

Allow George Bustos to fully explain what he means.

"The thing to her is the game. Those medals don't belong to her. They belong to everyone she meets," he continues. "She won that for the American people."

For so many years, the Canyon High graduate and owner of the Olympic Games home run record, six in Beijing, has been misunderstood.

The nicks, tatters and scratches are from Crystl Bustos' insistence on taking the medals to the people.

Whenever there's a clinic or an appearance, Bustos brings the medals and allows people to handle them and wear them. But for some reason, maybe it is that she's not Jennie Finch, people think different of Bustos.

Allow USA Softball head coach Mike Candrea to explain.

"If you don't know her, you get a whole different picture," he says. "People may look at her and think she's rough and uncaring, whatever it may be. She's seen about everything you can see on the streets.

You see the tattoos. You see Bustos and think she won't fit into the team concept, but she has a lot to offer young people. Crystl Bustos is rough looking - big tattooed arms, big shoulders, and muscular legs.
But people don't realize that she transformed her body for the sport she loves.

In order to change her game, she worked on her strength to become a power hitter.

As for those tattoos - the eagle and Olympic rings on her right bicep, the skulls representing the teams USA Softball conquered in the Olympics and the Chinese characters - many people don't know that she has a passion for art.

In fact, she designed tattoos for other people.

But she's not uncaring.

She was the first player to console her teammates after a shocking 3-1 loss to Japan Aug. 21 in the gold medal game of the 2008 Olympics - a game in which USA Softball scored one run. Bustos hit a solo home run.

It's not different from what she's always done. Bustos had her fair share of fights growing up, but one in particular showed her character.

"I got in a fight in school because four girls were picking on a handicapped person," she recalls. "I obviously took the handicapped person's side. I don't agree with people picking on people for no reason."
Her high school softball coach, current Valencia High boys basketball co-head coach Greg Hayes, says she was also misjudged back then.

"For her senior year, she was ineligible for the first part. It was my fault. I didn't push her hard enough," Hayes says.

The coach says he didn't make her realize that she could play college softball early enough. And by the time her senior year came, she realized it and loaded up her schedule with very challenging classes.

"I wouldn't blame coach," she says. "I knew what was right and wrong. I knew what I had to do. Like I tell everyone, ‘You have to be accountable for your own actions.' It took me a lot longer in life to figure that out."

George says she was rebellious. Bustos says her older sister April's overachieving in school made it difficult for her. As she puts it: "it was easier to be bad."

Crystal says had she not found softball, she might've found gangs.

But two men in particular steered away from trouble and into the sport.

Her uncle, Jessie Rios, who died in 2000, used to drive from Venice to Canyon Country and transported her regularly to softball practice.

He was a profound influence on her.

"Whatever Jessie told her, it was law," George says. "If we had a problem with her - with school or talking back to me - he would tell her and he'd straighten her out."

The other man was Dale Moore. Moore wasn't just her softball coach. He was her mentor. He helped her transform her game. She was a 13-year-old slapper, but quickly became a player with a complete game with speed, power, defense and intelligence.

Bustos would routinely get in rundowns to force other teams to make an error. When she wasn't on the base paths, she'd hit it over girls' heads. Her first hit upon return from ineligibility was a home run. So was her last high school hit. So was her last Olympic hit.

Moore also helped Bustos get her driver's license and later employed her as a tile setter for his company before Bustos was an international softball superstar.

"If it weren't for people going the extra 10 miles for me, I don't know where I would be," she says. "I would have been in trouble."

Instead, her path led to Sydney in 2000, Athens in 2004 and Beijing in 2008.

She won gold in 2000, belting three homers. In 2004, she outdid herself, again achieving gold, but hitting five home runs.

In 2008, she was even more of a force.

"She's the most underrated softball athlete that's ever played this game," says Candrea, the 2004 and 2008 U.S. Olympic head coach and eight-time National Champion head coach at the University of Arizona.

"If there's one person that can make an impact and change a game by itself, it was her."

He chose to use the word "was" because Bustos is now retired from international competition.
Softball will not be included in at least the next two Summer Olympics after a vote by the International Olympic Committee in 2006 eliminated the sport from the games.

Bustos will return to play professionally for the Akron Racers of the National Pro Fastpitch Softball League.

She will also apply for a coaching position with USA Softball.

But most importantly, Bustos will be involved with her passion - helping kids. She has a travel ball team in Ohio called "Bustos Elite."

On a grander scale, though, she has started a non-profit organization that will help kids get involved in sports at lower costs than some prominent organized leagues.

"Whatever sport they want to play, it shouldn't come down to (because of) money they can't play," Bustos says.

Bustos says she doesn't want credit, for that or anything else.

"I don't do things because of praise," she says. "I do what I feel."

Is that so hard to understand?

 

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