SARASOTA, Fla. (WFLA) — The former athletes who inspired the hit movie ‘A League of Their Own’ are in Sarasota for a reunion.
The movie is one of the most charming and endearing sports films in recent memory, but for Lois Youngen, it means so much more. “When I saw the film for the first time I cried through it,” said Youngen.
In the early 50’s, Youngen was a catcher for the Fort Wayne Daisies –one of the teams that was in the All American Girls Professional Baseball League.
This weekend, former athletes are in Sarasota for a reunion, recalling a time when female baseball players were seen as equals.
‘The press covered us every night. We played seven nights a week. They covered us seven nights. A nice big spread,” said Youngen.
“The first year we hit 21 states and Canada in three months, and played in 77 games. We played in Yankee Stadium before one of their games. We met Joe DiMaggio, Casey Stengel was the manager, Yogi Berra, Phil Rizzuto,” said Mary Moore, a player with the Springfield Sallies.
These pro athletes were paid $50 a week. They averaged in age from 16 to 18 years old.
“We were having fun, we got paid, many of the players would tell you, they would’ve played for free,” said Youngen.
And yes, they didn’t mind the skirts.
“You had tights on underneath. We wanted to play ball, I guess we didn’t care what we wore,” said Moore.
At the time they didn’t realize they were making history. Now in hindsight, they want it preserved. Along with their reunion, they’re raising awareness and funds for a proposed women’s sports museum in Sarasota.
“We want the young girls of this day and age to know that they can dream and their dreams can come true,” said Moore.
“There’s still a ton of discrimination against women. They don’t get equal pay and sports it’s even worse,” said former athlete Jeneane DesCombes Lesko.
“There is nothing like this. Women’s sports are relegated to back rooms and tiny corners of sports facilities around the country. It’s incredible to think, there is no women’s sports museum,” said Chris Gallagher with Hoyt Architects.
They’re thankful that the film preserved their history for future generations. They were heavily involved in the making of it.
“Nobody would’ve known about this if it hadn’t been for the movie,” said Moore.
“If it hadn’t been for Penny Marshall, if it hadn’t been for her pushing to get the film made, A League of Their Own, no one probably would’ve ever known about us except the people around Lake Michigan where we played,” said Youngen.
Some are disappointed that there isn’t a professional women’s baseball league in 2016.
“I don’t ever see us playing against men. But playing against women and having a women’s league, I think that’s highly possible….If Major League baseball ever wanted to spend any of their money in a constructive way,” said Youngen.
These big league rivals inspire countless women to achieve their goals. But don’t forget in their core, they’re competitors and old habits die-hard.
“We still hate the Rockford Peaches! Thought you’d like to know that,” said Youngen with a chuckle.
The public can have opportunities to meet the women as well. There will be a fundraising gala on Saturday night at 7 p.m. at the Hyatt Regency Sarasota to raise funds for the sports museum.
There will be a meet and greet and autograph signing on Sunday at 3 p.m. at the Hyatt as well.
WATCH John Roger’s interview with the former ballplayers tonight at 5:30 on News Channel 8.
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