SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Local News

April 16, 2008

Baseball pioneer in a league of her own

PEABODY — Mary Pratt grew up as an athlete without any sports to play.

"Sports was my passion growing up, but there were no opportunities for me," the 89-year-old Pratt said.

Her South Shore high school didn't field girls teams and neither did her college. She occasionally found a spot among the boys on the playgrounds of Quincy. Or Pratt played on intramural squads.

When she graduated, Pratt was all set to settle into a career as a schoolteacher.

"It just was the way things were at the time," Pratt said. "Competition was just something not for girls and women."

But her dream came true in 1943.

"Can you imagine how I felt when Mr. Wrigley offered me $60 (a week) to play ball?" Pratt said as she recounted her experience as a professional baseball player last night at the Peabody Institute Library.

You probably know the story from the film "A League of Their Own." Phillip Wrigley, owner of the Chicago Cubs, wanted to fill a baseball void for the country during World War II, when scores of Major League players left to fight overseas. Wrigley started the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.

Pratt's stint on the Boston Olympets, a softball team formed to enliven the Boston Garden during the slow summer months, brought her to the attention of league organizers. Nicknamed "Prattie," she was a left-handed pitcher who played for the Rockford Peaches, the team featured in Penny Marshall's 1992 movie.

Pratt and her teammates played in skirt uniforms that ended above the knee.

"When you slid, you got strawberries," she said.

The schedule was grueling — 125 games and doubleheaders on Sundays.

"And do you wonder why I can't understand why the pros today, they have muscle twitches in the back and a groin pull here and a groin pull there?" Pratt said. "We must have had aches and pains, but we still played."

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