Long before the Silver Hawks came to South Bend in the 1980s there was a different baseball team attracting thousands of fans. The South Bend Blue Sox, a professional baseball team made up of women, attracted 39,000 fans during their first season in 1943.
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The South Bend team was one of four original teams created by the owner of the Chicago Cubs to be a part of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. The women that played in the league not only provided entertainment to baseball fans during World War 2, but they also paved the way for the future of professional women's sports.
The 1992 movie "A League of their Own" depicts the lives of players in the All American Girls Baseball league. It is fairly accurate -- at least that is what Betsy Jochum thinks.
"But you know, Hollywood has to make it Hollywood," says Jochum
And, 91-year-old Jochum should know. After all, she lived it.
"This is my baseball picture," says Jochum as she flips through pictures and memorabilia left over from her days on the South Bend Blue Sox.
Jochum was 22 years old in 1943. It was the year she traveled from her home town of Cincinnati to Wrigley Field in Chicago to try out for the League.
"There were over 200 people trying out and 15 players on each team," says Jochum. There were only four teams in the League in 1943, so making the team would have been exciting, Jochum said.
At the time, the United States was embedded in World War II and so were a number of major league baseball players. Phillip Wrigley, the owner of the Cubs, was worried baseball would lose money, so he founded the women's league. Jochem was one of the first players. She was placed on the South Bend Blue Sox.
"It was a wonderful experience," says Jochum, "you get paid to play, that is always nice."
Jochum was paid about $50 a week when she first started playing in 1943. At the time it was called the All American Girls Softball League and they played a hybrid form of softball. The game changed over the next several years and by the late 40s the girls were playing baseball and eventually the league's name was changed to the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.
In the beginning, there were four teams in the league: the South Bend Blue Sox, the Rockford Peaches, the Kenosha Comets and the Racine Belles. Over the next several years the league explanded to include 11 more teams.
Originally the team played at Bendix Fields, which was a baseball field once located near the South Bend Airport. Eventually they played their games at Playland Park, which was an amusement park once located on the site where IU South Bend now sits.
"Everyday, we played everyday," says Jochum, "[We had] double headers on holidays and Sundays. No days off for travel."
People would fill the stadium to cheer on the team. Jochum says there were about 2,500 fans a game in the stands. One 4th of July game nearly 10,000 people came to watch, says Jochum.
"[I played] left field and center field. And [I pitched] in 1948 when they pitched overhand -- when I wasn't pitching I was outfield," saus Jochum.
Jochem played with the league until 1948. She quit that year because she was going to be traded and she didn't want to leave South Bend. She has no regrets though, and is proud of what she and the rest of the women in the League did for the future of women's sports.
"Back then we were just having fun but now we realize what it was. We paved the way, more or less, for professional women's sports," says Jochum, "back in 1943 it was very unusual -- but it was the best feeling to get paid to play a game."
Jochem still lives in South Bend. She donated her uniform to the Smithsonian in the 1980s. The uniform was powder blue and navy - they were South Bend's colors. The South Bend Blue Sox competed every year through the League's final season in 1954. The South Bend Blue Sox won the League Championship in 1951 and 1952.
To learn more about Jochum and the South Bend Blue Sox you can visit the Center for History. The CFH is a repository for League artifacts and photographs.