Women’s baseball still a growing sport
Shirley Burkovich, left, who was an All-American Girls Professional Baseball League player, chats with Jill Blue, the publisher of Senior Life. They enjoyed the game between the United States and the Dominican Republic at the Women’s Baseball World Cup.
Senior Life Jill Blue
Maybelle Blair and Shirley Burkovich might not be well known to most sports fans, but their legacy lives on as women’s baseball fights for recognition around the world.
Blair, 91, and Burkovich, 85, received a loud ovation while attending a baseball game between the United States and the Dominican Republic during the Women’s Baseball World Cup, which was held from Aug. 22 to Aug. 31. The event was held at Space Coast Stadium, which is part of the United States Specialty Sports Association’s complex at what used to be the spring training home of the Florida Marlins and the Washington Nationals.
Games also were played at adjacent fields to Space Coast Stadium.
Blair, who had the nickname All the Way May, and Burkovich played women’s professional baseball in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL), which ran from 1943 to 1954. Their story was featured in the movie “A League Of Their Own.’’
At Space Coast Stadium, the two were surrounded by fans who wanted to chat or have photos taken with women’s baseball royalty. Blair and Burkovich represented AAGPBL, which was one of the sponsors of the Women’s Baseball World Cup.
They love to talk about their playing days.
“I enjoyed every cockeyed minute of it,” said Blair, who was a pitcher for the Peoria Redwings in 1948. “I didn’t know I was going to be able to play baseball, you know. On account of the war, we were able to go and it was the biggest thrill of my life to play professional baseball.”
Burkovich was a little younger than Blair when they played.
“I was 16 years old when I signed my first contract,” said Burkovich, who was a utility player with the Muskegon Lassies in 1949 and the Rockford Peaches in 1951. “I thought that was going to be my career. I thought I was going to play forever and, of course, the league disbanded then in ’54 and we were all devastated. But you know, we all go on. But it was a great experience — something I will treasure for the rest of my life.”
The two former standouts were excited to watch the eighth Women’s Baseball World Cup.
“This, to me, is kind of what we’re aiming for, is to get girls and women into baseball,” Burkovich said. “We’ve just been so thrilled to have it in the United States this year.”
Japan won the event.
The two serve on the board of directors for the International Women’s Baseball Center, which is based out of Rockford, Illinois. That was the home of the Rockford Peaches, the AAGPBL team that was prominently featured in “A League Of Their Own.”
“What we’re trying to do is raise money for our facility so we can get it going,” Blair said.
“We want to have a place — like a Cooperstown — where we can have our own museum, our own Hall of Fame,” added Burkovich, who serves as the IWBC’s treasurer.
The two hope that some softball players will consider playing baseball after high school or college. Another option would be to play both sports at the same time.
“We’re trying to get women’s and girls’ baseball going,” Burkovich said. “We want to have another ‘League Of Their Own,’ give them the same opportunity that we had back in the 40s. So, that’s our goal. That’s what we’re pushing for.”
For more information, go to internationalwomensbaseballcenter.org.