Twenty years ago today, Ila Borders broke barriers in baseball when she became the first woman to pitch in a professional minor league baseball game. In 1997, Borders signed with the St. Paul Saints and played in her first game on May 31. Borders was also the first women to receive a college scholarship to play men’s baseball, the first woman to earn a win in college baseball, and the first woman to earn a win in a professional baseball game.
Today Borders is a firefighter and paramedic in Portland, OR, but she still makes time to talk about her experiences in baseball. The St. Paul Saints recently had an Ila Borders bobblehead giveaway to commemorate the 20th anniversary of her first game and her book, Making My Pitch: A Woman’s Baseball Odyssey, was published last month.
Other women’s firsts in baseball include:
Jackie Mitchell, the first woman to pitch for a minor league team, the Chattanooga Lookouts, in an exhibition game in 1931.
Toni Stone, the first of three women to play in the Negro Leagues. Stone played for the barnstorming team, the San Francisco Sea Lions, in 1945 before signing with the New Orleans Creoles in 1949. (The other women to play for the Negro Leagues were Mamie Johnson and Connie Morgan.)
Mamie Johnson, the first woman pitcher in the Negro Leagues. She signed with the Indianapolis Clowns in 1953.
Eri Yoshida, the first woman drafted by a Japanese professional baseball team. Yoshida signed with the Kobe 9 Cruise of the Kansai Independent Baseball League in 2008.
Sometimes, with the over-abundance of military days at the ballpark, it becomes easy to overlook the days that are truly deserving of our honor and respect. In fact, many of us have tired of the almost daily renditions of “God Bless America” and military-inspired uniforms at MLB stadiums – to the point where we no longer pay that much attention. However, Memorial Day is one those days that reminds us that there are some things that are bigger and more important than baseball. And when baseball honors such days, it can be truly awe-inspiring.
Memorial Day began as Decoration Day in 1868, after the American Civil War. Today it is a U.S. Federal holiday to honor and remember service members who died while serving in the the U.S. Armed Forces. It is a holiday on which we can relax, enjoy time off from work, and take time to appreciate the freedoms we enjoy because of the sacrifice of others.
This year, MLB and MiLB ballparks across the U.S. will have a variety of activities and remembrances in honor of Memorial Day. For example, more than 100 baseball players will wear Memorial Day-themed cleats from Adidas. The shoes have a small red poppy with a ribbon that says, “Thank you.” There is also a pull-tab on the back of the cleats that states, “Forever Honor.” For those like me that had no idea – red poppies are known as the “remembrance poppy” and are often used to honor military personnel.
Memorial Day weekend also happens to coincide with many youth baseball tournaments, which keeps many families from properly celebrating the holiday. To address that problem, an assistant coach and former Marine in Maryland has ensured that the Chesapeake Classic Baseball Tournament being held in Elkton, MD, honors the day. Plans included a short ceremony with the teams gathering on the main field to honor the men and women who died while serving in the armed forces, members of the 4th Combat Engineer Battalion of the Marine Corps Reserve presenting the colors, the singing of the National Anthem, and current members of the military giving speeches on the meaning of Memorial Day.
Whether you want to or not, you do serve as a role model. People will always put more faith in baseball players than anyone else. ~ Brooks Robinson
One of my all-time favorite players, Brooks Robinson, “the Human Vacuum Cleaner,” turns 80 today! Robinson has always been loved by the community, as a 1964 Sports Illustrated article attests:
“Robinson’s warm personality wins him as much respect as his competitiveness and courage. He does nothing for effect. Bill Tanton, columnist for the Evening Sun, recalls the time he was on hand when Brooks went on a bowling party with some multiple sclerosis patients. ‘I’ve seen athletes in such situations before,’ Tanton says, ‘and the atmosphere is usually strained or even maudlin. But this time, everyone was at ease. You could tell Brooks was genuinely enjoying himself and, of course, they all adored him. He kidded them, and they kidded him right back—especially about his getting bald.'”
Robinson was an All-Star 18 times, won 16 gold gloves, won numerous other awards, and was even memorialized in a Norman Rockwell painting and highlighted in the Catholic Review. Not bad for a kid from Little Rock, AR.
A few years ago, I went on a pilgrimage to Little Rock to walk in the steps of the great Brooks Robinson. There were no big plaques or signs to let us know he’d grown up there. But what else would you expect from our quiet, unassuming here.
Happy Birthday, Brooks!
PS Check out the footage of Brooks at work:
And there’s this great comparison between Brooks and Manny: