Baseball diamonds are this girl’s best friend
TIVOLI – The diamonds important to Salty Ferguson aren’t those adorning one’s fingers, but are the diamonds that consist of dirt, a plate in each corner, and bleachers seating onlookers.
Salty Ferguson recounted how during the 1950’s, she made her way to play Women’s Major League Baseball with the Rockford Peaches. Her recollections were the program for the Christian Women’s Group at Tivoli on July 1.
Born in Orangeville as Sarah Jane Sands, Salty said, “My brother was not interested in sports so I accompanied my father to baseball games.” As she grew up, the boys in town allowed her to play in all their sports. Salty describes herself as the ‘town tomboy.’ Eventually she became bat girl for the town’s men’s baseball team and wore a uniform cut down and resewn by the coach’s wife. For her feet, the town cobbler fashioned the youngster a pair of ball shoes.
“I had chores at home and also worked for others doing whatever was needed. I went to work early so I could finish early, go home, put on my uniform and wait for one o’clock which was game time,” Salty said.
While a senior at Bloomsburg High School, a chain of events began which would hurl her into the world of baseball.
Paul Richart, an insurance agent at Light Street, was in the home of Charles Shuler an agent in Allentown. Richart inquired about the photos of female baseball players on the host’s wall and learned Shuler was a scout for the All American Girls Baseball League. Having known Salty and seeing her at play, Richart told Shuler, “I know just the girl for you.” Accepting Shuler’s invitation to visit Allentown, the parents drove there and with ball and glove in hand, Salty, her father and Shuler went to a park where she threw out five pitches.
“Shuler gave my dad a card saying he was sending me to the Rockford Peaches in Rockford, Illinois. I don’t think my feet touched the ground. My father was so excited that on the way home, he stopped to give the news to Ed Sechler, editor of the Bloomsburg Morning Press,” she said.
Spring training loomed and because she’d earned enough credits, the principal allowed her to leave school early. “As in 1953 I was only 17, my father signed my first contract and returned home to collect my diploma at graduation,” Salty said.
“My dream was to be a catcher, but as the position was held by a good veteran player, I was assigned to right field. I don’t care where I played, I was just glad to play. I did do some catching later,” she added.
Salty talked of a dress code. The girls were never to be seen publicly in anything but a dress or skirt; in fact, skirts were their uniforms. The former player recited this quote, “There’s nothing wrong with girls playing baseball as long as they look good doing it.” Salty said they were at all times to, “Act like ladies and play ball like men.”
The Women’s Baseball League ceased play in 1954, but sports weren’t over for Salty. She would land a job in Middletown, PA, at Olmstead Air Force Base and play on their girl’s semi-pro basketball team.
Eventually Salty married, had two children and the family returned to Orangeville where she was approached to coach a boy’s baseball team. On the following terms she accepted: No coaching from the sidelines; we will use the fundamentals and follow the rules; everyone in uniform will play in every game; we will learn to be winners and losers, and have fun.” Both Salty and her dad were coaches.
In the early 90’s, the flood lights of baseball fields were replaced with lime light when Salty was invited to participate in the movie, “A League of Their Own.” Someone told her she had eight seconds of camera time. And as for the movie, “It’s fairly factual but they Hollywood-ized it a bit. My biggest surprise is that men like the movie,” she said.
In conclusion, Salty challenged, “If you have a dream, pursue it.” After glancing over the group of senior citizens, she added, “Whatever your age.”