Girls' baseball pioneer honored at Silver Hawks game

South Bend, Ind. 71 years ago, the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League was formed, but did you know that one of the first four teams created was right here in South Bend?

Baseball has always been popular in the U.S., and once WWII hit, a lot of professional baseball players were drafted. Thanks to Cubs owner Phillip Wrigley and a committee, the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League started in 1943.

There were tryouts in dozens of major cities that attracted hundreds of women from all over America and Canada who were eager to play ball. One of the women trying out was Betsy Jochum.

"Jack Sheehan came to Cincinnati and had tryouts, and I think about four or five of us made the team, and then we were sent to Wrigleyville in Chicago in 1943, way back then, and they had over 200 people there," explains outfielder and pitcher for the South Bend Blue Sox, Betsy Jochum.

More than 200 people were there, but only 60 were chosen. Betsy was one of them. She officially became part of the South Bend Blue Sox, which was one of the first four teams formed by the league.

"It was the South Bend Blue Sox, Racine Belles, Kenosha Comets and the Rockford Peaches," explains Erica Kirk, who works for the Center for History.

"The first game we played, they were kind of like, 'They can't play, they're girls.' Then they found out we really could play, so they decided to come out. I think we averaged about 2,000 people each game the 11 years we played," says Jochum. "We were out there playing for fun. I mean, what's better than getting paid to play a game, and that was a first for women, especially at that time. We didn't get paid to play anything at that time".

Jochum continued to play for six seasons before she eventually retired, but there is still one memory that she will never forget.

"On 4th of July, when there were 10,000 people, we played at Bendix Field and there were 10,000 people who watched us play in '47", says Jochum.

The league continued to grow and more teams were added until it eventually came to an end in 1954.

Jochum and the entire South Bend Blue Sox will be honored before the Silver Hawks game Friday night. They will also form a V-for-Victory on the field to reflect a tradition of the league during WWII. In addition, Jochum will be there to take pictures, sign autographs and talk to fans.

The game starts at 7:35 p.m. and the pre-game ceremony starts at 6:40.

If you can't make it to the game, the Center for History is having a grand re-opening for an exhibit that explains the history of the league. That will open May 31st from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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