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Real-life 'League of Their Own' player raises money for 94th birthday to build women's baseball center

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Pete Van Vleet/iStockBy KATIE KINDELAN, ABC News

(SUNSET BEACH, Calif.) — The time that Maybelle Blair played in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, the inspiration for the 1992 film A League of Their Own, were some of the best years of her life.

So to celebrate her 94th birthday, on Jan. 16, Blair, of Sunset Beach, California, is raising money to help give young girls a shot in baseball, and to commemorate the women in baseball like herself on whose shoulders they stand.

“We want to be able to have a league of our own again, to have a home of our own,” Blair told Good Morning America. “This was my whole dream for years.”

“When the movie came out, my dreams started to come true,” said Blair, who was featured at the end of A League of Their Own when retired players return for a reunion. “And then here we are again.”

Blair set a goal for her 94th birthday to raise $9,400 for the International Women’s Baseball Center, a proposed museum and educational center for girls and women in baseball in Rockford, Illinois, home of the Rockford Peaches made famous in A League of Their Own.

“It means so much to me,” Blair said of the center, which its organizers hope will become as well-known for women’s baseball as Cooperstown, New York, is for men’s. “This is what it’s all about, to be able to create a baseball center where we can have our own baseball memorabilia, our own baseball hall of fame.”

Blair pitched for the Peaches’ competitors, the Peoria Redwings, in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, a league created by chewing gum mogul Philip K. Wrigley in the 1940s to fill the void of baseball when many American men were sent off to fight in World War II.

Blair said she got her start in baseball as a 2-year-old. She said she was put on the batting plate to fend balls thrown by her older brother, who was being groomed as a star pitcher. Years later, as her brother fought in the war, Blair had a chance of a lifetime to be a professional baseball player.

“When I got to walking out to the ball diamond and I heard that clickety-click, clickety-click under my spikes, that was no sweeter music in my ears,” she said. “And then I saw that green grass and I said, ‘Oh my God Maybelle, you’re a professional ball player.'”

“It’s unbelievable I had that chance, and there I was,” she said. “That’s what it meant to me my whole life.”

After her baseball career ended, Blair went on to have a long career with Northrup Aircraft, where she made history there, too, as one of the company’s first female managers.

She never left baseball behind, though, staying active in helping get women into the sport and, in 2014, spearheading the effort to launch the International Women’s Baseball Center.

“We’d been talking about this for a long time, that there’s no home for girls and women in baseball, so we set out to create a place,” said Kat Williams, president of the center’s board of directors and a professor of women’s sports history at Marshall University. “It’s a big complex and a big idea, and Maybelle Blair is the driving force.”

Blair threw out the first pitch at a women’s baseball game in Rockford two years ago, at the age of 92, and said it is her life mission to see this project complete, saying, “I’ve got to get this building [done] so I can die happy.”

The center is an $8 million project that will be built in stages as they are able to fundraise money, according to Williams.

They have already broken ground on an outdoor museum but have a long way to go to see their dream fulfilled of making the center not just a cultural spot for women in baseball around the world, but also a place for tournaments and educational events, like training for female umpires, of which Blair notes there are currently none in Major League Baseball.

The MLB only has one female general manager, Kim Ng, of the Miami Marlins, who was just named to the role last November.

“We need to have our own museum and our own recognitions and then we can have our dreams come true,” Blair said of women in the sport. “This is our chance for the girls. Let’s get it done.”

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