ENGLEWOOD — While Sue Zipay hasn’t played baseball since 1954, the dream of girls and women playing in their own league never left her mind.
Zipay, 85, was one of the Rockford Peaches, the team of women that inspired the 1991 film “A League of Their Own.” She was 17 when she left Hingham, Massachusetts, for South Bend, Indiana, to play baseball.
While the Peaches played only two seasons, Zipay has never abandoned the idea of girls playing baseball. She now lives in Englewood where she’s owned the Englewood Tennis Club on State Road 776 for 30 years. But while she enjoys tennis, baseball is her sport.
This love of the sport, and women getting their own chance to play, is what inspired the former Peach to start a baseball camp for girls. The camp will be held at the new Atlanta Braves spring training facility, CoolToday Park, in July and is open to 60 girls from all over.
As of this week, she said she has 20 emails from interested girls already. Zipay says the Atlanta Braves are in-kind sponsors and hosting the camp at the new ball park.
While the camp is a good way to develop baseball in young players and promote the sport, Zipay’s idea is to bring back a girl’s baseball league.
Return to the diamond
Zipay is longtime member of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League Players Association, which was started after their baseball league dissolved in 1954.
Zipay says she hasn’t been too involved in the association, until recently. She, like many others in the league, went on to raise families when there was no more baseball. It was not their first choice, Zipay said.
“All of the women were unhappy when it ended,” she said.
She married and raised three boys. Her sports focus shifted to tennis, and she played until she was in her 70s. Zipay says she’s still a tomboy, and enjoys sports as much as she did back in the day.
Now she’s focusing on baseball for girls and women, and doing it through an American Girls Baseball Association. Her idea is to open more opportunities for girls to play baseball, as opposed to softball, which girls play at youth, high school and collegiate levels.
“People spent more time pushing softball,” Zipay said.
Softball and baseball are very different, softball is played with a bigger ball, underhand pitching, and tends to be slower. Baseball uses a smaller, harder ball and is more fast-paced. Zipay said even in her day, it was fast.
Zipay adds she has nothing against softball, but they they are two different games.
“All of the women’s sports have progressed, but women’s baseball has stood still,” she said.
Looking to the north
Zipay isn’t the only one who would like to see girls and women return to baseball. Dana Bookman started the push for girls baseball in Canada. Bookman’s daughter had tried to play Little League baseball, but did not feel comfortable. So Bookman started a league, the Canadian Women’s Baseball Association. According to Zipay, six provinces across Canada now offer baseball for girls.
Bookman got in touch with Zipay as part of an effort to get the ball rolling in the United States. Zipay says that the U.S. is far behind in promoting girl’s baseball, with Japan being first and Australia second in the sport.
The women in the Players Association will provide guidance, but the the American Girls Baseball Association will function on their own, according to Zipay.
“We don’t want to take over,” Zipay said.
Her idea is that the women’s league plays next to the men’s league, like soccer. She’d like to see something similar happen in baseball, where girls will play in their own league.
“We want it to be fair, American girls baseball is not Major League Baseball,” Zipay said.
She also adds that after the original league dissolved, there was no central organization for women’s baseball. Zipay wants to avoid that and have everything centralized, to make sure that girl’s baseball continues.
“That’s what I want, is to pull them together,” Zipay said.
A camp of their own
Zipay hopes that the creation of the camps will draw more players come to baseball. She hopes this camp is the first step of many. She is now focused on getting the camp off the ground and hopes that some local sponsors can help to ease the costs and help the girls. The sponsorships will help offset the costs of having the camp and could provide a future camp for girls.
“Girls have more opportunity now,” she said. “Girls want to play baseball, not softball.”