Eastern Kentucky University softball player Zoe Mihalicz heard the phrase “There’s no crying in baseball!” her whole life growing up, but it’s not just because she has played softball since she could walk. The phrase came from the 1992 film “A League of Their Own” – a film that tells the story of Mihalicz’s great-grandmother, Mary “Bonnie” Baker.
Set during World War II, “A League of Their Own” brings to life the story of Dottie Hinson – a fictional character inspired by Baker – and other women who played in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL). As men are being drafted to fight in the war, Chicago Cubs’ owner P.K. Wrigley formed the AAGPBL in an attempt to keep baseball alive. In order to be successful, they had to find women who could play ball.
“It was a time for women to show what they could do and what they were capable of when they were given the opportunity to do so,” Mihalicz said. “Nobody was as desperate to play and to show what they were made of as the women were.”
For nine seasons, Baker played as a catcher, first for the South Bend Blue Sox. She then played for the Kalamazoo Lassies, as both a player and a manager. Thriving in the league, Baker was named twice to the All-Star Team during her career.
“Pretty Bonnie Baker,” a former model, was often chosen as the face of the league, posing for publicity shots and acting as its spokeswoman. Baker was easily the league’s most publicized player.
Though she was known by many for her accomplishments as a player, she was also known by those closest to her as an independent, bold woman – a woman Mihalicz sees as a role model still to this day.
“All the stories I hear go back to her being a strong, independent woman, who basically didn’t take any crap from anybody and just lived the way that she wanted to live,” Mihalicz stated. “She was always true to who she was.”
As a catcher herself, Mihalicz said her great-grandmother had an influence on her decision to play the position. Growing up, her family always encouraged her to choose whichever sport she wanted to play. No matter what she tried, she said, she always came back to softball.
“If you think about it, I’m a catcher and my great-grandma was a catcher – I don’t think that’s a coincidence,” Mihalicz said.
Mihalicz’s family has always been a big part of her life and her career as a softball player. Her great-grandmother was from Saskatchewan, Canada, and the majority of her family still lives there. Though she lives in Colorado now, Mihalicz still considers Canada home.
Every year, her family has a family reunion in Saskatchewan where they hold a tribute to Mihalicz’s great-grandmother by doing what Baker loved to do – play America’s favorite pastime. Baker still continues to influence and be an integral part of her family’s lives, bringing them together every year to see one another and celebrate her life together.
But, Baker’s influence reaches more than just her family. “A League of Their Own” highlights the step that women took during this time period towards blazing a trail, showing what women were capable of when they were given a chance.
The film shines a light on what these women accomplished for the game of baseball and keeps the legacy of her great-grandmother and the women who played alongside her alive.
Baker’s influence earned her a place in the Saskatchewan Baseball Hall of Fame and in exhibit on the AAGPBL in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
Just last week, Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame honored Baker for her career as a professional baseball player, a baseball coach and Canada’s first female sports broadcaster. Baker was one of three prominent female athletes added to the Hall of Fame this year. These women were chosen for not only their success in athletics but also for their role in breaking down barriers for women.
To this day, “A League of Their Own” reminds people of the accomplishments that these female ball players had and their place in history and Bonnie Baker lives on as one of the best female baseball players of all time.
“It’s so cool that she got to do what she loved to do, that she got paid for it and that she’s influencing other people’s lives because of it,” Mihalicz said. “Her legacy is living on.”