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Sycamore woman reflects on professional baseball career

SYCAMORE – At 17, Betty Mullins hadn't left her home province of Saskatchewan, Canada, let alone the country.

But not long after Philip K. Wrigley spotted Mullins and a couple of friends playing softball in Regina, Saskatchewan, Mullins found herself at the Opa-locka, Fla., naval training base, trying out for Wrigley's All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. The league, which folded in 1954, kept baseball in the public eye during World War II.

Mullins, now a Sycamore resident, played for three teams from 1948 to 1950 in the league depicted in the 1992 film, "A League of Their Own." She spoke about her experience Thursday at the Sycamore History Museum's Brown Bag Lunch.

That experience started with a monthlong tryout in Florida with 400 other women.

"It was a frightening situation," Mullins said. "But I knew I loved the sport. I didn't care. My folks agreed that I could do it."

Mullins was assigned to the Grand Rapids Chicks for the 1948 season. She played third base, and her defense helped lead them to the Eastern Division championship.

New tryouts were required before each season, and Mullins was assigned to the Fort Wayne Daisies for 1949. There, she set an AAGPBL record with 12 defensive assists in one game.

Her defensive strategy challenged even the league's best hitters.

"I played [defense] exactly lined up with the pitcher," she said. "Now, they don't do that nowadays. You would get a ball down your throat."

She did it all with random, second-hand gloves coaches gave her throughout her career. She could only scrounge up enough money for cleats, and the $30 price for a glove was too steep.

"It was like a flat pancake with padding in the glove," Mullins said. "I had to learn how to squeeze it and how to catch the ball. But that's what I did for three years."

Michelle Donahoe, the museum's executive director, was thankful Mullins could share her experiences with the crowd.

"She's great. Imagine playing softball without a glove?" Donahoe said. "It worked out great with June, school is just out, kids are still playing baseball and softball. It was nice to have a younger audience today, too."

Mullins was asked about "A League of their Own", which starred Geena Davis and Tom Hanks.

"Now if you've seen that movie that came out about us, the only untrue thing was the alcoholic manager," Mullins said. "The rest was basically, I'll say at least 98 percent true. What you're looking at, that's how we lived. We lived in buses, we played seven days a week and we traveled. We played three days, left for another city, played three days, left for another city.

"But you have the love of it, and you didn't care."

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