I know Jack.
Okay – so I don’t really know Jack.
Jack Reno that is. But, I do have a copy of his 45-rpm record “Vevay, Indiana” in my jukebox. And, I do live just about 14 miles from Vevay, Indiana – not quite – but close enough.
Close enough, in fact, to plan to spend this Friday night listening to the music of Greg Ziesemer and Kriss Luckett as well as David Dwyer, Mark Louden, and Patchwork. All will be performing at Vevay’s September First Friday event.
I have heard Greg and Kriss several times in the past. They write much of their own music. They are fun. And – they are good.
I am sure the same is true of the rest of the musicians who will entertain First Friday visitors.
Jack won’t be there.
Jack Reno died in 2008, but “Vevay, Indiana” lives on both in song and in celebration.
Speaking of celebration, an important segment of American baseball history will be celebrated this weekend in Oak Brook, Illinois. Many of the surviving members of the All American Girls Professional Baseball League will gather for four days for the 2013 AAGPBL reunion which will be held at the Oak Brook Historical Society.
During those four days they will reminisce about the past, the present, and look to the future.
They will remember the thrills of playing professional baseball during the war years of 1943, 1944, and 1945 – and for eight more years after that. They will remember the thousands of fans who cheered them on.
They will remember their hits and their misses. The no-hitters and the homeruns. They will remember the games won – and the games lost.
They will remember the people around them including managers such as Baseball Hall of Fame members Max Carey, Jimmie Foxx, and Dave Bancroft.
They will reminisce about their strict dress and conduct codes. And the chaperones who lived and traveled with the team.
They will remember when in 1988, as a league, they were given their own “Women in Baseball” display at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, and they will remember Penny Marshall, Tom Hanks, Madonna, and the movie “A League of Their Own.”
They will remember Tom Hanks’ admonishment “There is no crying in baseball.”
They will laugh. They will reminisce. They will embellish. They will forget.
And they will cry.
They will cry as they remember the teammates who have passed and those in poor health. They will never forget those who are gone.
They will spend each available minute with one another knowing that next year – if there is a next year – many of those in attendance will not be able to attend – some never again.
And yet – they will smile with the youthful enthusiasm that thrilled baseball fans during the 1940s and 1950s. Even though the youngest veteran is approaching 80 years old, their enthusiasm for baseball, and for their fans and teammates remains. In fact, on Saturday a group of AAGPBL veterans and associate members will challenge the Rockford Peaches Enactment Women’s team who will be wearing replica 1943 Rockford Peaches uniforms while playing 1943 AAGPBL rules.
At the same time, other AAGPBL veterans will meet and talk with the public and sign autographs.
Ten years ago I had the opportunity to meet and talk with many of these baseball veterans during their 2003 reunion in Syracuse, New York. I, along with two friends, spent about six hours at the reunion.
When we walked in the door I thought we might get to meet a couple of the women and hopefully get their autographs. I expected to be restricted to “the line” and to need to pay for each autograph.
I knew at that time that many well know major league players were charging $25 to $75 to sign an autograph. I had no idea what the “Women of Baseball” would charge.
I soon found out.
They would charge nothing.
In fact, while many sat at tables and signed autographs, many more wandered around the lobby and talked baseball – and signed autographs.
At the time, I had a replica AAGPBL wool jersey and a couple of baseball bats I wanted to get signatures on. After approaching four or five of the women, one of them asked me if I would be more comfortable at a table.
She then had someone get a table and couple of chairs and had them set up in the lobby for me. After that, whenever she would see another former player she would ask if that player had signed my jersey. As a result, I now have a replica jersey with the signatures of about 100 former All American Girls Professional Baseball veterans. And, thanks to my friends, Rudi and Janet, I also have a baseball bat with nearly that many signatures and a book, written by one of the players, with over 60 signatures.
We got most of the signatures when the players came to us.
They smiled when they approached. They smiled when they signed their name. And they smiled when their picture was taken.
And – most of all – they smiled while they talked baseball.
Those same smiles will fill the Oak Brook Historical Society this weekend. There won’t be as many smiles because there won’t be as many veterans strong enough to be there. But those who are will treat the public the same way they treated me ten years ago.
They will honor their fans because their fans have honored them. They will give without asking anything in return.
They were ambassadors of baseball and of America long ago.
They are ambassadors today.
They will be ambassadors tomorrow – if they are here tomorrow.
Tom Hank’s said “There is no crying in baseball.”
This may be true, but there will be tears when there are no AAGPBL veterans left to celebrate their role in baseball and in American history.
In the meantime, they should be honored – individually and as a group.
No tears – just smiles, joy, and happiness.
That is what they deserve.
I wish I could be there to celebrate the past, the present, and the future with each of the baseball veterans who will attend this year’s AAGPBL reunion.
I would like to hear their stories one more time. I love their stories, their memories, and their youthful enthusiasm.
Baseball and America are better because they played the game. I wish them well.
– Mike Cooney