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Rockford Peaches live on in new series, baseball center


For many of the women and girls playing baseball this summer, the Rockford Peaches — a team that hasn’t played in more than 60 years — remain a source of inspiration. One of the original four teams in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL), the Peaches won the most championships in league history.

Even though the team dissolved in 1954, the organization lives again through the efforts of baseball historian Kat Williams and the International Women’s Baseball Center along with the City of Rockford — and of course the 1992 movie “A League of Their Own.”

The film has allowed the spirit of the Peaches to continue through new generations, and Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara proclaimed Friday and Saturday “A League of Their Own 30th Anniversary Celebration Days” in the city. Both the IWBC and Rockford will honor the movie’s anniversary with a series of events concluding with a premiere of the upcoming Prime Video series that reimagines the beloved baseball film.

“Women have always been part of the game,” said Williams, the IWBC president, whose goal is to commemorate the contributions women have made to the sport throughout the years. “We’ve always played, umpired, coached, tended the fields, kept the stats, owned the teams. We have always been there.

“We did not start playing in 1943 and we did not stop in 1954. And internationally, women’s baseball is huge right now. So that is precisely why we at the International Women’s Baseball Center set out to make a home for women’s baseball. You know, men’s baseball has a home in Cooperstown, New York, at the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Little League Baseball has a home in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, where they have all the fields, play games and have a museum. Women’s baseball does not have a home.

“Well, they do now and it’s Rockford, Illinois.”

Founded in 1943 by Chicago Cubs President and owner P.K. Wrigley and Brooklyn Dodgers President Branch Rickey, the AAGPBL featured teams of female baseball players from cities within reasonable driving distance of Chicago.

An announcement in the Chicago Tribune in February 1943 said “the girls will wear dainty raiment instead of the customary mannish attire. They will not be bloomer girls, tho.” Tryouts were held in various cities with spring training at Wrigley Field. It was baseball, not softball, same as the men’s game but with some adjustments. For example, the basepaths were 65 feet instead of 90.

For the women chosen, it meant an opportunity to get paid to play, but just like the majors, that did not extend to everyone as the league was segregated. The AAGPBL folded in 1954 but remains an important piece of women’s baseball history. Nearly 600 women played in the league.

The Rockford Peaches — both the real ones and the Hollywood version — are a big part of that legacy. When “A League of Their Own” debuted in theaters in 1992, Penny Marshall’s film reawakened fandom and breathed new life into the long-defunct ballclub.

“I saw the movie the day it premiered,” Williams told the Tribune. “I laughed and I cried and I cheered. I was just so overwhelmed. At the end of the movie, the credits started rolling and the old-timers are out there playing a game and Madonna was singing ‘This Used to Be My Playground’ and I lost it. I couldn’t get up.

“Eventually the lights came up and I looked around the room. There were about 10 other women sitting in that theater and we couldn’t leave. We had no idea we struggled. I played baseball and softball long before Title IX. And we struggled and we fought and we thought something was wrong with us. We didn’t know we were part of that history. We didn’t know we were part of something bigger.

“And so to find that out, it just changed my world. It absolutely changed my life.”

In the movie, Geena Davis played Dottie Hinson, a character loosely based on real-life Peach Dorothy Kamenshek. Kamenshek, who joined the team for its inaugural season, had been a softball player in Cincinnati. She went on to become the AAGPBL’s star player.

A two-time batting champion and seven-time All-Star, the left-handed first baseman was known to jump three or four feet in the air and do splits to snag the ball. “Kammie,” as she also was known, was such a big star that the Fort Lauderdale club in the Class B Florida International League attempted to buy her contract, but the AAGPBL’s board of advisers rejected the offer because, according to league President Fred Leo, “women should play among themselves and they could not help but appear inferior in athletic competition with men.”

In their first season, the Peaches finished last in the league with a 43-65 record, but Kamensky scored 58 runs and hit .271 with 39 RBIs. With the league’s best player in Kamensky, the Peaches won league championships in 1945, 1948, 1949 and 1950.

The league’s final season was in 1954, and the Peaches dissolved without much fanfare. The Tribune ran this item in February 1956:

“Notice of legal action to dissolve the Rockford Peaches Girls’ Softball Club, Inc., has been served by the attorney general. The corporation, which took over the club in 1954, has failed to file annual reports or pay charges and fees required by corporation laws. Officials in Rockford said no effort has been planned to revive the organization.”

It was over. Or so it seemed.

But thanks in large part to “A League of Their Own,” the Peaches live on — as evident in this weekend’s events in Rockford.

“The Peaches are an important part of Rockford’s history,” McNamara said in a statement, “and we are honored that Prime Video has not only created a series based upon the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, but is also hosting the series debut right here in Rockford — weeks before it is available to the public.

“I’m excited to watch as the launch of this series, as well as the creation of the International Women’s Baseball Center in Rockford, usher in a new era of AAGPBL fans.”

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