who helped inspire
the lead character in
“A League of Their Own,”
– AP Press, May 23, 2010
When my brother and I
visited Rockford relatives in the 1940s,
aunts and uncles took us out to see
the Rockford Peaches, one of the teams in the
All American Girls Professional Baseball League
that operated from 1943 to 1954.
Sixty-five years later, in 2007
in Palm Desert, California, we met
for the first time their star first baseman,
Dorothy Kamenshek, an 84-year-old
in a wheelchair who joined us for lunch.
Her teammates called her Kammie,
to distinguish her from several players
who were also named Dorothy.
Soft spoken, steady handed and alert,
she reminisced about the times
her widowed mother, on the way to work,
would drop her off at a Cincinnati park
where boys enjoyed playing baseball.
At first averse to the southpaw joining in,
they changed their minds when they saw
how well she played the game.
Invited to a Wrigley Field tryout
in 1943 at the age of seventeen,
she made the final cut and joined
the Rockford squad, the anchor team
in the league that included cities like
Grand Rapids, Kenosha, Racine,
Kalamazoo and Fort Wayne.
An All Star several times, she won
two batting titles and Wally Pipp,
the Yankee player, said that she
was the best fielding first baseman,
man or woman, he had ever seen.
Sports Illustrated in 1999 selected her
as the 100th greatest female athlete
of the twentieth century.
Kammie chuckled when she recalled
lessons in etiquette given to players,
dress codes and hairdos required,
the curfews they were supposed to keep
while boarding with host families
who provided rooms for them.
Players earned $50 to $125 a week,
received an expense allowance and saw
the Great Lakes countryside by bus.
In August, 1950, three thousand fans
honored her at Beyer Stadium
in Rockford on “Kamenshek night”
and showered her with gifts.
When her playing days ended in 1953,
she attended Marquette University,
embarked on a career in physical therapy,
went on to head that department of the
Los Angeles Crippled Children’s Service,
an experience she said gratified her
as much as baseball accomplishments.
Kammie gave us each an autographed photo
of herself, taken in her Rockford uniform,
was pleased that we remembered her
and delighted in revisiting the past,
as if she had risen from her wheelchair
and trotted back to the on deck circle
with her favorite bat in hand.