A Reunion of Their Own
All-American Girls Professional Baseball League players visit Cooperstown 20 years after groundbreaking movie
"It was the most exciting time of my life," said Jean Faut. "And we can't talk about it too much or I'll startcrying because it was wonderful."
What made Faut's eyes well up with emotion was recalling her career as a star pitcher in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, a mostly forgotten slice of sports history until the premiere of the 1992 film "A League of Their Own." While the annual reunion of the AAGPBL, in existence from 1943-54, is being held in nearby Syracuse from Sept. 19-23, the group scheduled a trip to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum on Friday.
"It's exciting to be here," said Faut, a right-handed hurler for the South Bend Blue Sox from 1946-53 who finished her career with 140 wins, two perfect games and twice captured the Player of the Year Award. "I've loved the game all my life, so I get excited when I know I'm going to the Baseball Hall of Fame. I don't always go to the reunions but I wasn't going to miss the Baseball Hall of Fame."
After taking a late-morning group photo on the steps of the Museum with the almost 50 AAGPBL participants on hand, a special program was held before a full house in the Grandstand Theater.
"We are honored to have 47 of you who have played in or were involved with the league sitting here this morning,"said Hall of Fame Chairman Jane Forbes Clark in her opening remarks before the assembled audience.
"Thank you so much for spending your day with us. We hope you enjoy your day. Your contributions to baseball have been wonderful and very much appreciated by everyone. And please consider this your baseball home and always come back and see us because we love welcoming you back."
According to Mary Moore, an early1950s infielder with the Battle Creek Belles and Springfield Sallies, "We made friends way back when and we've stayed friends. It's like family. You're just so glad to see everybody every year and talk over old times. It's like you never even left.
"We played ball because we loved it," Moore added. "Jobs were kind of hard to find and we were getting paid for it and travelling all over the country. We would play in 21 states and Canada in three months. You couldn't ask for anything more. It was exciting and yet we never dreamed anything like this would ever even happen."
Recognition of the AAGPBL certainly soared with the release of "A League of Their Own," starring Geena Davis, Tom Hanks and Madonna, 20 years ago.
"That movie," said Clark,"used the silver screen to bring your story to an audience that not only adored it but will never forget it. A wonderful story, a terrific history lesson, and (it) made people around the world pay serious attention to women in baseball."
Attending the Cooperstown events was actress Megan Cavanagh, who portrayed Marla Hooch in "A League of Their Own." When the Hall of Fame honored the movie 10 years ago, she donated the uniform she wore to the Museum.
"Oh my God! I'm so excited to be here," Cavanagh said. "I haven't seen most of these women since right after the movie was filmed, but it's just so great to see them all. It's really emotional. I'm just tickled pink that I get to be part of this group.
"Some of the women have adopted me. I just feel so honored to be part of them. It's just incredible."
As for the movie's role in bringing overdue recognition to the AAGPBL, Cavanagh said, "I feel blessed that I'm part of it. It was just such an amazing first job. And it really has sculpted my whole life in so many ways. I'm just proud as punch.
"I got pregnant during the movie and I have a 20-year-old son who is now a junior in college, so in some ways I can believe it but in some ways it's just crazy. It airs so much and people stop me all the time and tell me that they love the movie, and when I tell them it's been 20 years they're always surprised."
Bill Francis is a Library Associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum