Lois Youngen’s on-field appearance at Isotopes Park was a blast but slightly bittersweet.
Youngen, 80, was one of 26 former players from the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League who were introduced prior the Isotopes’ 5-4 victory over Fresno on Monday night. After the introductions, Youngen snapped a few pictures of the ballpark and reached down to run her fingers through the grass.
“It’s wonderful being out here,” the former catcher said, “but I hate coming on the field and not playing. I can’t run but I’d sure like to get in there and take a few swings.”
Katie Horstman, Youngen’s former Fort Wayne Daisies teammate, did the next best thing by throwing out the ceremonial first pitch. She covered her mouth and laughed when the pitch came in just a bit high and inside.
A little rust on the pitching arm might be understandable. After all, the AAGPBL ceased operations after the 1954 season.
But the former players still know how to entertain a crowd, something they were expected to do as members of the All-American Girls league. While posing for pictures outside the stadium, they sang the AAGPBL’s Victory Song.
“We get together every year,” said Mary Moore, “and we always sing the song.”
Monday’s outing was part of the AAGPBL’s 2014 reunion, which also included a ride up the tram and a visit to Santa Fe. Other than Albuquerque resident Kate Vonderau, players logged some significant miles to attend.
“New Mexico’s been great,” said Moore, who traveled from her White Lake, Mich., home. “Seeing the fans cheering for us tonight was a lot of fun, and they had big banners welcoming us when we went to Santa Fe. It makes you feel really good.”
They spent several innings on the Isotopes Park concourse Monday signing autographs and sharing stories of the AAGPBL. The league, which inspired the 1992 movie “A League of Their Own,” lasted from 1943-54.
Competition began during World War II, when military service commitments forced most minor league teams to shut down. But the AAGPBL built enough of a following to continue for several years after the war.
“We got to play a game at Yankee Stadium in 1950, which was amazing,” said Moore, who played for the Springfield Sallies at the time. “We played right before the Yankees game and got to meet Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra and everyone else. They were all very nice to us.”
Youngen, who now lives in Eugene, Ore., played for both Fort Wayne and the South Bend Blue Sox during her four-year playing career. She played for manager Jimmie Foxx, on whom Tom Hanks’ character Jimmy Dugan was loosley based in “A League of Their Own.”
The movie was shown on the stadium scoreboard after Monday’s game.
Youngen sported a T-shirt with Dugan’s famous quote, “There’s no crying in baseball.” However, she made a point to correct a bit of Hollywood license taken in the film.
“Jimmie Foxx was nothing like Jimmy Dugan,” Youngen said. “He was not a falling-down drunk, he was a wonderful gentleman and we loved him. Let’s set the record straight on that.”
The AAGPBL players seemed a bit overwhelmed by the lines of fans seeking autographs. Most of their signatures were personalized and took longer than the usual pro athlete scribbles.
But the women were otherwise well prepared for their appearance, handing out playing cards with their career numbers and high-fiving fans on their way into the park.
“We can still do this,” one player said, “just slower than we used to.”