Pioneering women propelled 'Leagues of Their Own'
LEWISBURG - They came from all over the country and delighted baseball fans.
This could be said of the heyday of the All-American Girls' Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) but is also true for today.
Twenty years after "A League of Their Own" was released and nearly 60 years after the AAGPBL played its last game, the women who kept baseball alive during World War II can still draw a crowd.
Five former players and Babe Ruth's granddaughter were on hand Sunday at the Campus Theater in Lewisburg to sign autographs and watch the movie their experiences inspired with an awed and excited audience.
At the screening were Ruth (Kramer) Hartman, Sarah (Sands) Ferguson, Virginia (Ventura) Minina, Katie (Herring) James, Noella (Le Duc) Alverson and Linda Ruth Tosetti, granddaughter of Babe Ruth.
While most of the players thought fondly of their baseball days, they discounted its importance until the movie was released in 1992.
"I thought it was nothing that I played out there," said Hartman, who played for Jimmy Fox and denied that he was anything like Tom Hanks' characterization.
"I came back and I was a pretty good softball player and played in a lot of world tournaments, but I forgot all about it because I thought softball was greater here. Then the movie came out and it was fantastic and I was glad I'd played."
Cheryl Walter, sporting a red Phillies shirt, came from Milton with her husband and she specifically sought out Hartman.
"We're big Phillies fans," Walter said, "and it's such an honor to meet these women. They say a lot about what America is and they're true heroes."
While the AAGPBL seemed to be a novelty at the time for America, it was what the ladies did after their playing days that left the biggest impact on the country.
Many went back to their hometowns and started sports leagues for girls of their own, which trickled down to future generations and lives in the vast array of sports opportunities for girls and women today.
"I don't think we'd have that if we didn't play. I think we laid the groundwork for today," Hartman said. "I know in my hometown, we didn't have women's sports and I started the swimming team and a softball team and we got to be state champions, but it took it a little while to teach fundamentals and to be accepted."
Hartman may also seem familiar to Phillies fans who travel to Reading to see the club's AA affiliate because she is the unofficial team grandmother.
She makes it a point to introduce herself to teams that are brought in and honored by the Reading Phillies, and keeps in contact with players now in the big leagues.
"Fortunately, I'm affiliated with the Reading Phillies and I got to know all the players really well," Hartman said. "Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels and Freddy Galvis all have my cellphone number and call every week to check and see that I'm okay. I'm very close to the boys and I'm a big fan, but Ryan Howard calls me his grandmother."
And Howard, given the nature of his recent slump, will soon get an earful.
"I expect to go down this week and have a good talk with him," Hartman said. "He'd better straighten up."