A Game of Their Own: Ogden Raptors to host 2 women’s baseball games, raise money for suicide prevention
OGDEN — An idea incubated during the winter is hatching this weekend at Lindquist Field, a new first in the 25-year history of the ballpark.
Two baseball teams comprised completely of women, mostly from northern Utah, will take the field Saturday in the first of two tribute games, paying homage to the popular film “A League of Their Own” exactly 30 years and one day from its release in theaters, and to the all-women’s league the movie was based on.
At 7 p.m. Saturday, July 2, the Ogden Whoopie Girls will take on the Junction City Dolls in a seven-inning baseball game at Lindquist Field. The second game will be at 7:30 p.m. Monday, July 11.
After a combined practice Tuesday, sentiments from players were universal. They wanted to play to represent women and to satisfy an itch to compete, while several felt a strong connection to the movie.
For the Ogden Raptors and team president Dave Baggott, staging two women’s baseball games is about three things: showing that women can play ball, giving them the opportunity to play under the lights at a professional stadium, and raising money for charity.
Admission to both games is free. Concessions and merchandise stands will be fully operational, and the Raptors will also solicit donations for two charities.
For the July 2 game, proceeds will go to Hope Squad, the Utah-based youth suicide prevention program that aims to place a peer-to-peer support team in every Utah school and also tackles mental health issues and substance abuse. Gates open at 6 p.m. and the game starts at 7 p.m.
The July 11 game will raise money for Live On Utah, the state of Utah’s official suicide prevention and support effort, a “public-private mental health and suicide prevention campaign that aims to modify attitudes and social norms to reduce suffering and save lives,” the Live On website reads. Gates open at 6:30 p.m. and the game starts at 7:30 p.m.
Baggott says he aims to raise at least $10,000 total, though he hopes for more.
“A League of Their Own” tells a fictionalized story about two sisters joining the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, which was a real sports league from 1943-54 launched during World War II. The film — directed by Penny Marshall and starring Geena Davis, Madonna and Tom Hanks — remains a favorite among baseball fans, sports-inclined women and many others.
Sisters Ainzley Henrie and Mateah Davidson (formerly both Tuckett) grew up in West Point and played sports at Syracuse High School but now live in Manti. Henrie teaches elementary school and Davidson runs a concrete-pouring business with her husband. They’ll both suit up for the Dolls.
“It sounded fun, like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It’s near our hometown, so it will be fun to have family come watch us and support a good cause. And as often as we play softball, I feel like skills can transfer to this field,” Henrie said. “But it just feels nice to be on the field again.”
As a ninth-grader, Davidson played high school softball so she could play with Henrie, her senior sister, for one season.
“I’m just excited to play with my sister again, competitively … it’s the best thing in the world,” Davidson said. “We like to think of ourselves like the sisters in (“A League of Their Own”). We always pull the lines out of the movie when we play, and we liked that movie for that reason … I’m just really excited to play with my sister and come play baseball on this field. It’s beautiful. What a privilege it is. So stoked for the day and the games.”
The players participated in a two-day tryout in early June and have since held four practices leading into the first game Saturday.
The Dolls and the Whoopie Girls — the latter name a nod to Ogden’s rodeo scene — will play seven-inning contests using most of the same rules as fans might see at Lindquist Field otherwise, and with umpires who often officiate Pioneer League games in Ogden.
There will be a few modifications to help the players who might not be entirely used to playing the sport of baseball in a live, competitive game. Some roster and substitution rules may be different, for example, to allow for full participation of each roster.
Baserunners can lead off but not steal unless via passed ball or wild pitch. Pitchers cannot throw pick-off attempts to bases, but catchers can throw to bases to challenge runners after a pitch.
Other than that, it will look like a baseball game. Pitchers will throw overhand and several on either team were seen at Tuesday’s practice popping the leather with fastballs and spinning good-looking curve balls and sliders, to boot.
One such thrower was the Dolls’ Calleigh DeYoung, an 18-year-old from Taylorsville who played youth baseball growing up (she also played softball at Taylorsville High School) and is the youngest player on either team.
Veronica “Roni” Webb, a lifelong Ogden resident, is 47 and is the oldest player on either team. Her age was a definitive reason she wanted to participate.
“Coming out of retirement to come play, and represent women to the younger generation, was what inspired me to do this. Because women need that. We need to be able to show who we really are in this world. So I’m here to help represent women of all ages,” said Webb, who will play on the Whoopie Girls. “There are players my age who are way better than me who should’ve been here and tried out and didn’t because they thought they were too old.”
Most players played high school softball at the least, while many played basketball, volleyball, golf and even rodeo. Some played college softball and volleyball as well.
Jamie Hamblin of Layton (formerly Jamie Jesperson of Layton High School), said she heard an announcement about the women’s game during a night out to see the Raptors and her husband prodded her to play.
“‘You should go show that you can do this and show our kids,'” Hamblin, a mother of four, recalled him saying. “Sometimes my kids are like ‘can mom really play?’ So he’s like ‘just go show our kids that mom still has game.'”
It’s been a nostalgic experience for her, even just during practices.
“When you’re on that field, it brings me back to memories of playing catch with my grandpa, or being a little-league All-Star and just smashing the ball and running to third base instead of first,” Hamblin said. “It’s like a time machine when you step out on the field.”
Adjustments were needed. Many players said one of the bigger changes to practice when comparing softball to baseball was the release point and trajectory when throwing a baseball — necessary due to the smaller size of the ball and the spread-out spaces of a baseball field.
The Whoopie Girls are coached by Baggott, a former minor league baseball player himself, Richard Armstrong from the Raptors’ front office and his son, Jakob Armstrong.
The Dolls are coached by Justin Nakaishi, general manager and co-owner of SavOn Sporting Goods who has also helped coach baseball and softball in various ways around northern Utah. Longtime area softball coach Dave Hoch will also help coach the Dolls, with Tyler Velasquez and Gino Garcia.
SavOn joined with Coleman Knitting Mills and the Ogden Raptors as the night’s main business sponsors.
Below are full rosters for the two teams. All players currently live in Utah, ranging as far south as Sanpete County, but some listed their original hometowns and have recently moved to the area.
OGDEN WHOOPIE GIRLS: Jessica Allen (Spanish Fork), Nicole Bianco (Valparaiso, IN), Kelsee Bishop (Plain City), Janette Blaisdell (Syracuse), Amy Canova (Beaver), Jacee Christofferson (Farmington), Amy Cole (Syracuse), Kyli Flanary (Bountiful), Ashley Gleason (Clinton), Jamie Hamblin (Layton), Madie Johansson (Baton Rouge, LA), ShyAnn Johnson (West Point), Holly Lopez (Kearns), Ashley McFarland (Layton), Cierra Mitchell (Ogden), Savannah Rutherford (Reno, NV), Kate Thurman (Clinton), Tanya Waters (Kaysville), Kayla Webb (Roy), Veronica “Roni” Webb (Ogden), Erin Wray (Hooper)
JUNCTION CITY DOLLS: Marisa Bowman (Lehi), Mateah Davidson (West Point), Ashley Dennis (West Jordan), Calleigh DeYoung (Taylorsville), Tracee Heaton (Roy), Ainzley Henrie (Manti), Krista Jensen (Mesa, AZ), Brittany McCray (Salt Lake City), Danielle Nakaishi (American Falls, ID), Lorel Palmer (Ogden), Shalee Pearson (Taylorsville), Kelsey Rodriguez (Brigham City), Haylee Velasquez (Roy)
BRETT HEIN, Standard-Examiner