It isn't every day that a big-time fashion designer has the nerve to trade couture for cross checks.
Twenty-five-year-old Angela Batinovich, who made a big splash with the highly successful "Bat's Daughter" women's clothing line, has put her fashion career on hold as the president-owner of the National Lacrosse League's Portland LumberJax.
The youngest owner in league history brings her expansion Jax (2-2) to HSBC Arena to face the Buffalo Bandits (2-1) at 7:30 tonight (Radio 1520).
Her label -- named for her father Robert, whom she calls her greatest source of inspiration -- was one of the hottest lines at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in Los Angeles for spring 2005, and sold to more than 75 boutiques around the country. Her line's celebrity clientele includes actress Alicia Silverstone and singer Deborah Gibson.
"Sometimes I find myself reading [fashion] magazines and telling myself that our line would have been perfect for this season," said Batinovich, who has moved to Portland after growing up near San Francisco. "I'm used to having to work so far ahead because of the trends of the business."
Now it's game-to-game instead of season-to-season for Batinovich, in part because of a New Year's Day 2005 trip with a friend to Denver's Pepsi Center to watch the Colorado Mammoth play indoor lacrosse.
Just one look, that's all it took.
"I knew immediately I was seeing a really good product, something I could sell," said Batinovich, who is single but has turned the team into a family affair. "The energy was just so passionate and the entertainment value was great. You can just tell from the way they play that they aren't millionaire athletes, they do it just because they love it, because it's a pride thing.
"That night I was on the phone with my dad, telling him that he and my brother [Andrew] might want to be involved. Deep down I guess I felt it was every man's dream to own a sports team."
Robert "Bat" Batinovich is the president and chief executive officer of Glenborough Realty Trust of San Mateo, Calif., which he co-founded. Robert and Andrew are LumberJax shareholders.
Angela says her dad saw his first NLL game in San Jose, "and didn't want to leave his seat to go to the bathroom for fear of missing anything."
After meeting in New York with NLL Commissioner Jim Jennings and George Daniel, the league's deputy commissioner and general counsel, she was granted an expansion franchise and decided on Portland and its 18,000-seat Rose Garden because "it had a nice feeling, like a smaller San Francisco."
Said Jennings: "I was very impressed and would have never guessed she was 24 [at the time]. When she walked out of our office I said, 'I can't believe she's 24' and that's the last time I said it. The only time I think about her age is when reporters ask me about her."
Batinovich was a big 49ers fan growing up near the City by the Bay, where she played volleyball and swam, but rooted more for the NBA's Los Angeles Lakers (her dogs were named Kobe and Magic) than her hometown Warriors.
Upon graduating with a degree in business marketing from Loyola Marymount University, and with Donna Karan, Marc Jacobs, Tom Ford and Liz Claiborne as her fashion idols, she set out to design the perfect suit for interviews. It's a high-pressure career that can make even the slam bam pace of indoor lacrosse seem tranquil by comparison.
"The games, I can't do anything about because by then I've already done my work," she said. "But fashion is so critical. With our team, the criticism can be about the team so I'm sort of out of the loop. With fashion, it's all about my designs from my own thoughts. It's much more personal."
The LumberJax won their first home game, 12-11, over the Mammoth before 9,916 turbo-charged fans. Portland's second home game attracted 9,633. Because she had been so busy in the hours leading up to opening night, the satisfaction didn't really set in until she was able to sit with her family in the stands during the fourth quarter.
"They took a victory lap and just seeing the smiles on all the happy faces, I started to break up," Batinovich said. "It was such an awesome feeling. I'd compare it to one time in New York I was driving to dinner and went past a shop we had sold to. I saw in the window of a hot boutique two mannequins, one of which was wearing our coat. I almost flipped."
On the field, Batinovich has entrusted her team to Derek Keenan, head coach and general manager, who played for championship teams with the Bandits in 1992 and '93.
"She's not going to put up with any crap and I think that's great," said Keenan, who has been granted carte blanche concerning the lacrosse operations. "Maybe she's caught the establishment a bit off guard because she hasn't done things the orthodox way, but she's still putting butts in the seats and that's all it comes down to at the end of the day."
Trying to succeed in a male-dominated world is a challenge Batinovich hopes will inspire other young women.
"[Recently] I went to talk to my first college class," she said. "They're all aspiring to become young entrepreneurs.
"I told them it is not going to hit you in the head. You have to go looking for it."