By Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
For a young pre-teen girl whose family was struggling to survive the Great Depression, baseball – specifically the teams that made up the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League Players Association – brought a little bit of hope to Marilyn Jenkins.
Jenkins was living on the south side of Grand Rapids in the 1940s, near the corner of Cass and Hall Street “which was about a long block and a railroad track from South Field where the ‘Chicks’ played,” she said during a 2008 interview for the documentary “A Team of Their Own: The First Professional Baseball League for Women.” There is a screening of the documentary set for Wednesday, March 23, at noon at Grand Valley State University, 1 Campus Dr., Allendale. Also on Wednesday, March 23, at 8 p.m. and again Saturday, March 26, at 1 p.m., WKTV will be airing “Women in Baseball, a Veterans Oral History Special,” featuring a panel of women who played on the Grand Rapids Chicks during World War II.
For Jenkins, baseball was the one thing she had to do. “I knew there was no money to go to college. There weren’t scholarships and all that business, and in what? I wasn’t qualified,” she said. “I was a good student in hight school [Jenkins attend South High School], but anyway, I had to play ball.”
The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) was started by Philip Wrigley, owner of the Chicago Cubs, during World War II to fill the void left by the departure of most of the male baseball players for military service. Female players were recruited from across the country, and the league was successful enough to be able to continue on after the war. The league had teams based in Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan, and operated between 1943 and 1954. The 1954 season ended with only the Fort Wayne, South Bend, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, and Rockford teams remaining. The League gave more than 600 women athletes the opportunity to play professional baseball. Many of the players went on to successful careers, and the league itself provided an important precedent for later efforts to promote women’s sports.
For Jenkins, who developed her love of the game through her father, the experience was profound. She went from helping with the grounds at age 11 to batgirl at age 13 to playing for the team right out of high school. She would be one of the last players when the league ended in 1954. Jenkins would stay in Grand Rapids, earning an associate degree to become a radiologist and later working in an attorney’s office.
Jenkins said she enjoyed her time as a “Chick” and has continued as a member of the AAGPBL, but knew at some point it would end.
“…there were good ball players, but there are today too, but the skirts, the uniform, the time, it’s in a little pocket of history, where it fit in perfectly and I don’t know where you’re going to find another pocket like that…,” she said.
For more on the documentary “A Team of Their Own: The first Professional Baseball League for Women” visit gvsu.edu/wibdoc. For the full interviews with the AAGPBL players, visit www.gvsu.edu/vethistory. For WKTV programming, visit wktk.org.