They say that diamonds are a girl’s best friend, but in 1949, Lisle resident Lois Balchunas said it was a different kind of diamond that caught her attention.
Lois, known as “Punky Bellman”, played in the All American Girls Professional Baseball League. League owners organized the women’s baseball teams during World War II, when the male ball players left the diamonds, for the battlefields.
More than 600 women took their places. They played fore teams such as the Rockford Peaches and the Racine Belles. Balchunas was a utility player for the Chicago Colleens for the 1949 season.
An event at Cantigny Park in Wheaton, Illinois brought back some memories for this baseball pioneer.
“We played in skirts and when we practiced we would slide into a base, and oh boy that would hurt,” said Lois Balchunas.
In the movie “A League of Their Own,” Tom Hanks’ character Jimmy Dugan says the classic line, “Are you Crying? There is no crying in baseball!”
For Balchunas, crying was just part of the game.
“It didn’t matter to me one way or another. If you want to cry, cry,” said Balchunas.
Women like Balchunas were being honored at Cantigny Park. Organizers kicked off the outdoor summer movie season with the film “A League of Their Own.” The film stars Tom Hanks, Geena Davis, and Madonna which help tell the ball players story.
There were Rockford Peach reenactors at the park. They had a practice and met with some of the fans.
Reenactor Rebecca Tulloch enjoys taking the field as a Rockford Peach.
“It’s fun because it’s one thing when you read about something in the history books, but it’s another thing to put the clothes on. It’s amazing when you put the clothes on! You do feel like you step back in time,” said Tulloch.
In the movie, a fan screams out and says, “Girls can’t play baseball!”
But for former ball players like Balchunas, she said, “Yes they can! They can do anything a guy to do, sometimes better!”
If it wasn’t for Balchunas, and others like her, women like Rebecca Tulloch may not share what brings them all together, a love for the game of baseball.
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