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."
Women came from throughout the Midwest, California, Canada and Cuba to fill the roster of teams based in small cities around Chicago.
"We did look like ladies and we acted like ladies, but we were skilled," Pratt said.
She pitched for Rockford and Kenosha during her five-year career, 1943 to 1947. She went 21 and 15 in 1944 and threw a no-hitter against Minneapolis.
Pratt, who still lives in Quincy, was invited to Peabody to participate in the library's "Play by the Book" speaker series. Red Sox legend Johnny Pesky spoke at City Hall on Monday.
The game wasn't identical to the men's version, Pratt said. Contests lasted only seven innings, and pitchers threw underhand during her tenure in a league that folded in 1954.
Pratt brought with her poster boards covered with various newspaper clippings, including one announcing her no-hitter, and a two-page photo from a 1945 Life magazine. Pratt is among the Rockford players captured in the image.
She praised the movie and said that the director told her that none of the characters was specifically based on her or her teammates. Sometimes, though, she jokes that the Madonna character is her, Pratt said.
Her connection to sports didn't end when her baseball career did. Pratt taught physical education for more than 40 years, including three at Salem State. She also coached and officiated basketball, softball, field hockey and lacrosse.
Pratt helped spur the transformation of the sports world to include women, according to audience member Bette Bailey of Ipswich.
"Just by playing professional baseball, she broke ground," Bailey said. "She was just a born leader."
What's important is having the chance to take the field, Pratt said.
"The girls that are coming along (now) must get the opportunities," she said, "not to be an elite athlete, but just to take part."