BY MARGO DRUMMOND
“Girls don’t do those things,” was the response Ann Batikis received from her father when she told him that she wanted to try out for the American Association of Girl’s Professional Baseball Team. As a Greek immigrant, her father’s dream for her was to get a college degree. Not to be dissuaded, Ann appealed to a family friend who agreed to convert a pair of bowing shoes and her left-handed glove to a right-handed for tryouts at Wrigley Field in Chicago. When her father learned that out of 60 potential players Ann was one of only two chosen, he relented on the condition that she play for only one year before pursuing her education.
Known affectionately as “Stash” to her Racine Belle teammates, Ann said of herself, “I was a rookie – I played center field.” Owen Davies, who later became mayor of Racine, recalled playing sandlot ball with “Stash” in the Winslow schoolyard. Following the death of her mother, Ann became homemaker for her dad and two older brothers at their Franklin Street residence. Not having a car, the family would trade war ration fuel stamps for sugar. On Saturdays Ann would procure a live chicken which became the fried chicken shared with soldiers invited for Sunday dinners.
With her own two brothers away at war, “Stash” enthusiastically joined fellow Belles team members in selling war bonds and putting on exhibition games for soldiers at military camps and hospitals during the 1945 season that she played. Known as the “3rd Major League,” preparation for play began with “charm school” conducted by representatives of Helena Rubinstein Cosmetics. Along with fellow players, 4’11” Ann was schooled in how to conduct herself as a lady – hair at shoulder length, posture improved by balancing a book on the head, dirt under nails removed by scratching them over a bar of soap and practice in properly putting on a coat and getting in and out of a car–no shorts or slacks, only skirts allowed in public.To insure their protection and safety a female chaperone was assigned to each. One player recalled her chaperone shouting out as she came to bat, “You don’t have any lipstick on!”
With games six days a week and double-headers on Sundays, one season could require 110-130 events including nine-hour bus rides between locations. Pay ranged from $45-$150 per week with a $5 allowance per day for meals. As demanding as the schedule was, there was still time for pranks which included replacing Oreo cookie frosting with toothpaste, hiding snakes in the bed, or putting nail polish on the soap bar used for cleaning nails. Years later, when the Belles joined members of the Rockford Peaches, South Bend Blue Sox, Kenosha Comets, Grand Rapids Chicks, and Peoria Red Wings at various reunions, what fun they must have had recalling those days. Perhaps their most memorable reunion took place in 1988 when they were inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Ann seemed equally proud of having been chosen as a member of the Washington Park High School Hall of Fame, and the University of Wisconsin LaCrosse Hall of Fame where she had earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
As World War II ended, so did interest in women’s baseball. Racine Belles losses for their last three seasons totaled $80,000. William Wrigley, who had originally conceived of a women’s league, turned his focus back to the Cubs. By 1954, with the return of men’s baseball and the advent of national T.V., the some 8,000 attendees to see the Belles play at Horlick Field were no longer there cheering. Gone too were the days of those fans heading across the street after games to honor their favorite players with a treat from the Brite Spot Diner. For Ann Batikis, life after the League found her teaching physical education in the town that proudly knew her as a former Belle, and would remember her as a dedicated and outstanding educator.
At the age of 18, when she joined the League, Ann was asked in an interview to name her favorite things. “Gay colors and fried chicken,” she answered. Years later, when asked to reflect back on her life, she spoke of the way neighbors and friends were always willing to share even during the hardest of times. “I was very fortunate growing up when I did. We didn’t have a lot of material stuff but we had a lot of other things. We had a very loving caring family.” Perhaps in appreciation for that tradition of caring and sharing, she added that she had given her left-handed glove to a left-handed kid because, as she noted, “I was left-handed too.”
Margo Drummond’s interest in local history began when she became involved with preservation Racine. For 31 years, she taught high school courses on Racine History and Death and Dying, Issues of Living and Life. She wrote two books, “Blessings of Being Mortal: How a Mature Understanding of Death Can Free Us to Live Wisely and Well” and “Here’s to Your Health.”