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America lost one of its all-time great professional baseball players this week. A record-setting pitcher for a powerhouse team. Someone whose story was told in one of the greatest baseball movies Hollywood ever made.
Her name is Mary Pratt. And she died a last week at the age of 101.
Pratt was one of the first members of the Rockford Peaches in 1943. That's the team at the heart of the movie "A League of Their Own."
Pratt was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut. As a kid, she only played ball when the neighborhood boys would let her join them. Her family moved to Quincy and she graduated from North Quincy High in 1936. She became serious about softball when she went to Boston University.
At age 24, Pratt was scouted for the brand new All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.
She was sent to Rockford, Illinois to become a pitcher for the Rockford Peaches.
She was just over five feet tall. And she was a Southpaw- — a "wrong hander," she would say.
Her throw was like a slingshot. And her crowning achievement was in 1944, when she pitched a no-hitter on her way to a 24-win season for the Peaches.
She spoke about those days in 2009, when she took part in an oral history of the league for Grand Valley State University in Michigan.
And she recalled the League wanted the players to be lady-like.
The athletes were sent to charm school between games. They learned correct posture, wore mascara, and had short skirts that got shorter every season.
It was OK by her.
"People always had the impression that if you loved sports that you were masculine, and that used to break my heart, because my mother and I went down and we made those uniforms," Pratt said. "In a world tournament, some of the girls from Japan happened to say to us when they saw us walking out on the field, 'What, you going to a dance?' "
Pratt played pro ball for five years and helped lead her team to the league championship series.
After that, she followed her passion for teaching physical education, first in Braintree and then for more than 40 years in Quincy.
She became a sought-out speaker at schools, and told students about what she learned as a professional ball player.
"You know, you don’t do it by yourself. Your team played behind you," she said. "My love of sports let me realize that, even when I went to teach, I can teach a person to think. I’m not going to go out there and make the plays for you, and I that’s why I try to get across when I go to the schools, that it’s more than just winning games and having a good record.
"It’s the friendships that you’ve gained and the people that you’ve taught. And through physical I was indirectly teaching a child how to take care of themselves, and I hope that I was an example for them. I hope that I wasn't just teaching them a lot of theory.
This segment aired on May 15, 2020.
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