It was hours of playing in the hot sun, batting, running, fielding, pitching. It was hours on the road, driving town to town, game to game, all over the West.
It was practice and more practice, and thighs bruised black and blue from sliding into bases.
And they loved it -- oh, they loved it.
They were the Utah Shamrocks, a women's fast-pitch softball team that ruled the diamonds of the Beehive State decades ago. And just like the young ladies depicted in the famous baseball movie, these Utah athletes also had "a league of their own."
Whether batting or fielding, they played for "the love of the game," recalls Donna Poll of South Weber, a member of the Shamrocks for 18 years, beginning in 1949. "It was just our thing to do, that's all."
As "A League of Their Own," the tale of the founding of professional women's baseball, marks its 20th anniversary, these Utah softball players -- including several from the Top of Utah -- are also in the limelight for their pioneering efforts in women's athletics.
But picking up a ball and bat was just something that came naturally to many of these women, including the team's former captain, Jean Dallinga of Clinton. Dallinga, 86, says she grew up in Bird City, Kan., a small town where there wasn't anything for a girl to do but play sports with the boys.
"I loved sports," Dallinga says, adding that during school lunchtime, "I'd run home and eat my bologna sandwich so I could go back and play (ball) for 10 minutes."
For Donna Poll, 84, and younger sisters Beverly, Louise, Marie and Carolyn, playing ball was a family affair, something their father and all their male relatives enjoyed.
"We just grew up watching ball games, playing with them," says Marie Poll Cash, 79, an infielder for the Utah Shamrocks. "At family reunions, we always had a ball game."
The Utah Shamrocks started in 1935, organized by a group of women working at Salt Lake City's Auerbach's department store. The team started off playing basketball, then switched to softball, recruiting the top players in the state.
During their 43-year history, the Shamrocks won more than 30 state softball titles and competed in numerous national and world championships from Oregon to Connecticut. In 1953 they placed second in the country and in 1967, fourth.
Some of the players were honored at a recent Salt Lake City Bees game for their accomplishments. Dallinga, the Poll sisters, former teammate Lou Jean Nelson of Ogden and others were introduced at a pre-game ceremony featuring actress Geena Davis of "A League of Their Own."
The tribute was organized by Zions Bank in conjunction with the film's 20th anniversary and with Davis' work to improve the images of girls and women in the media.
Just as the 1992 girl-power movie showed that women can play baseball, Weber State University women's softball coach Tina Johnson says the real-life Shamrocks demonstrated that, "Women are just as athletic (as men) and perform extremely well on an athletic field."
When the Shamrocks first took the field, sports were a man's game, Johnson says. "Women weren't supposed to slide and get dirty. .... Girls were expected to be cheerleaders and support the male athletics at that time."
Out to see the world
But slide and get dirty the Shamrocks did, especially wearing their uniform shorts, which at times even had skirts attached to them.
"We were expected to slide good in those shorts," says Carolyn Poll Child, a West Haven resident who played center field and second base.
"We had great strawberries," adds former catcher Nelson, patting her thigh.
There were injuries, too, now and then: "I broke many fingers because of foul tips, as you can see," says first baseman Dallinga, holding up her hand and stretching out some crooked fingers. "I can't even play guitar, or organ."
And these teammates prided themselves on playing hard.
"You played to win, didn't you?" Marie Poll Cash of South Weber says to her sisters as they reminisced about their experiences.
Beverly Poll Warner of Mountain Green, a member of the Utah Softball Hall of Fame, along with her sister Donna, says she enjoyed the game. "I liked the challenge -- and it was always a challenge to me."
"Traveling with the team, and especially with my sisters," was memorable for Louise Poll Cash, 81, of South Weber.
Adds Child, "We got to see a lot of parts of the world we never would have seen if it hadn't have been for the Shamrocks. We got $3 a day for food, that's all we got, and we usually brought money home."
The team paid for the gas for the many road trips by car and also for the players' motel rooms.
Not so 'ladylike'
Rob Brough of Zions Bank says the recognition of the Utah Shamrocks also coincides with the 40th anniversary of Title IX, which prevented discrimination in school programs and activities based on gender.
"It serves as a reminder that there are women who paved the way for benefits we enjoy today," says the executive vice president of the Salt Lake City bank, noting that his own 10-year-old daughter will never know a time without equality in sports.
But former Shamrocks' pitcher Fern Gardner remembers that era, recalling "there was nothing" in terms of women's sports when she attended Bear River High School in Tremonton.
"So I just lived for the summer so I could play softball," says Gardner, who grew up in Deweyville and later became director of women's athletics at the University of Utah.
Gardner, who joined the Shamrocks in 1951 at the age of 14, and played into the early 1970s, says as a young girl she didn't encounter any stigma about playing softball. But at college, she realized there were folks who thought it wasn't a "ladylike" thing to do.
"In my family, no one said, 'You can't play sports, Fern,' " she says in a phone interview from her St. George home.
Being part of the Shamrocks helped her learn to get along with all types of people and, because some of the players were college graduates, inspired her to dream of attending college herself, Gardner says.
"It's an experience that helped me grow up," she explains.
Paving the way
The Utah Shamrocks sometimes played men's teams for practice or for exhibition, and often beat them, the Top of Utah players say.
And just as "A League of Their Own" taught us "There's no crying in baseball!" these teammates recall there weren't any tears in softball, either.
If you made an error, "You'd just take it on yourself not to do it the next time," says Nelson, a retired physical education teacher. "You got to learn from your boo-boos."
Jill Cash Kap grew up hearing stories about her mother Louise and her aunts playing with the Shamrocks, but says she now realizes that beyond the recollections, the softball players had a role in advancing women's athletics.
"My three girls have gone to college on volleyball scholarships and I think they have paved that way," says Kap, of South Weber.
As her mother and aunt Donna coached her and other family members in softball, Kap says the former Shamrocks kept their fighting spirit: "We really didn't play for fun -- we played to win. It was very, very competitive."
And even today, the next generation of family ball players know when the Shamrocks are watching games on the sidelines, they'll be hollering at them, "Come on, hustle."
"They just don't have the enthusiasm that we had," Donna Poll quips. "And it's hard to sit there and say nothing."
ADVICE FROM THE PROS
What advice would former members of the Utah Shamrocks give to aspiring young softball players of today?
* "If it's to be, it's up to me," says Lou Jean Nelson of Ogden. "so I'd better do a good job."
* "Play hard and be the best that you can be," says Donna Poll of South Weber.
* "Practice, practice," adds Carolyn Poll Child of West Haven.
* "And hustle, hustle, hustle," says Louise Poll Cash of South Weber.