native of Goshen honored for playing in the professional women’s baseball league | Sports
SOUTH BEND – The smile couldn’t get out of Shirley Salisbury’s face. She had been training for it all day, and now was her time to shine.
Sitting in her wheelchair, Salisbury’s little niece Olivia pushed Shirley into the infield at Four Winds Field. She was placed about 15 feet from home plate, baseball in hand, and was preparing to do something she has been doing for most of her life: throwing a baseball.
Salisbury threw the ceremonial first pitch ahead of the South Bend Cubs game on Thursday. The 86-year-old leaned his right arm back and shot the ball towards Cubs player Blake Whitney at home plate. The ball only traveled a few yards, but that didn’t matter. Just being there in Salisbury was historic in itself.
In 1953, at the age of 17, Salisbury played for the South Bend Blue Sox, one of the founding members of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League which played from 1943 to 1954. The league began when the Most American men fought in World War II. It was a historic league for women’s sport, with the 1992 film “A League Of Its Own” spotlighting the league decades later.
After throwing the first pitch, Whitney returned the ball to Salisbury. The baseball rarely left his hands for the rest of the evening.
“We didn’t have balls like that… it wasn’t that heavy,” Salisbury said.
SALISBURY GAMING DAYS
Hailing from Goshen, Salisbury played in the field and was a pitcher for the Sox. She made her season debut on Thursday, June 25, 1953 against the Grand Rapids Chicks, starting in right field. His first night was nicknamed “Goshen Night” and an entire section of the stands was reserved for Goshen fans.
Salisbury actually missed the last three weeks of his freshman year at Goshen High School to participate in the team’s spring training, according to an old newspaper report. Her dad, Howard, made sure to note that she was going to make up for it in her senior year.
While Salisbury only played 10 games with the Blue Sox, she also enjoyed a successful career playing in the area’s women’s softball leagues. Shirley’s brother Bob is four years younger than her sister. He still has plenty of memories of Shirley’s playing days all those years later.
“I remember I was around 14 when Shirley was playing, and we used to go to games at South Bend,” said Bob. “We got to know some of these girls who played. It was interesting because at the time it was right after the war. People were coming back; the men were serving and the girls were playing ball. It was kind of a good time.
Thursday’s first pitch was held between the Cubs and the Waterford Crossing Senior Living Center in Goshen, where Salisbury lives. The senior center has a “Live a Dream” program, where residents can have the chance to do something they have always wanted to do with their lives.
“When you decide to live on a Trilogy campus, we make a promise – that it’s never too late to go on a new adventure, and that there’s no adventure too big or too small. “Jenna Barghahn, director of life enrichment at Waterford, said in a statement. “This is why, thanks to our [Live] a Dream program, we have residents who touched the clouds in a hot air balloon, took a motorbike ride in the back of a police bike, plowed the ground in a combine one last time and had lunch with their 99-year-old sister. “
Salisbury’s first pitch was also part of a larger AAGPBL celebration at Four Winds Field. The South Bend Cubs have hosted a few of these events in recent years, including one in 2018 when a 97-year-old South Bend resident and former Blue Sox player Betsy Jochum was honored. The women of the South Bend History Museum were dressed in old AAGPBL uniforms and shared information about the history of the league in the stadium lobby throughout Thursday evening.
“The South Bend Blue Sox team have been called back to South Bend by a lot of people, and I think it’s great that they honor the people who stay,” said Bob. “I think there are only five now who are still with us.”
Being able to honor the legacy of the Women’s Baseball League means a lot to Shirley’s sister-in-law, Jeanette Salisbury, too.
” It’s awesome ; it really is, ”said Jeanette Salisbury. “It’s very important for the family and I’m sure for anyone who remembers they played. It was a long time ago, but people will remember it and they will say, “Oh yeah, that was really, really cool. It was an unusual time for women to play, so it was kind of cool that she was doing that.
Memories of her playing days have deteriorated for Salisbury as she has been diagnosed with dementia in recent years. Family members say looking at old photos from her play days brings back some memories, but she still struggles to remember most things on a daily basis.
Being able to have his family there on Thursday meant the world to Salisbury.
“Lovely… I can see them. They laugh, ”Salisbury said.