Simmons, Maxine Drinkwater (2005)
From Portland Press Herald
CAMDEN — Maxine Simmons will take to the mound Thursday night at Hadlock Field for a ceremonial first pitch before a Portland Sea Dogs game.
“I hope I can do it,” she said. “I haven’t thrown anything in a long time. I think maybe I’ll practice by throwing some rocks.”
Like the young men who will follow her onto the field, Simmons once got paid to play baseball. Now 81 and living in her hometown of Camden, Simmons played for the South Bend (Indiana) Blue Sox in 1954 during the final season of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.
No. 4 corresponds to second base, the position played most often by Maxine (Drinkwater) Simmons for the South Bend Blue Sox in 1954. This number happens to be the one she wore during her tryout in Battle Creek, Michigan, while many of her senior classmates at Camden High were on a trip to Washington D.C.
The Sea Dogs are celebrating the 25th anniversary of the film “A League of Their Own” – starring Geena Davis, Tom Hanks and Madonna – with themed jerseys to be auctioned off for the benefit of Girls on the Run, a nonprofit organization aimed at inspiring girls to be joyful, healthy and confident.
Also tossing a ceremonial pitch will be Kat Williams, a professor of American history at Marshall University and author of “The All-American Girls After the AAGPBL: How Playing Pro Ball Shaped Their Lives.”
Visitors to the apartment where Simmons lives are greeted by a sign reading: Red Sox Fans Welcome; Others Not Allowed.
“I’ve always been a Red Sox fan,” she said. “Ted Williams was my hero.”
She still watches games on television, nearly every night.
“I love that Mookie (Betts), what a player he is,” she said.
Another former Sea Dog, Jackie Bradley Jr., is among her favorites, as is second baseman Dustin Pedroia.
Second base was her main position when Simmons, then 18 and known as Maxine Drinkwater, was signed by the Blue Sox out of a tryout camp in Battle Creek, Michigan. She grew up playing ball at the high school field in Camden with her older brothers and a bunch of neighborhood kids.
That paid off when Camden High School started a softball team in her junior year and she batted over .700 in 1953. A few years earlier, Simmons had seen a newspaper article about the AAGPBL, which had begun play in 1943 during World War II, and read about two barnstorming teams playing in Portland and Bangor. She wrote to one of them, the Fort Wayne Daisies, after her junior season and learned about a tryout for the league, but the school wouldn’t excuse her.
In her senior year, she finished her studies early and skipped a class trip to Washington, D.C., in order to fly with her mother to Michigan. Simmons still has the cloth rectangle emblazoned with the No. 4 that was pinned to her shirt for the tryouts. Of the 60 young women trying out, she was among 30 who made it, and the top draft pick to boot. Almost immediately, she began preseason training with South Bend, coming home only briefly for graduation.
“For years, I had wanted to play professional baseball,” she said. “I played all that summer, in Michigan, Indiana, all around that area. We played mainly at night.”
‘ROOKIES WERE LUCKY TO PLAY AT ALL’
A scene in the film shows players attending charm school to hone manners. Simmons said that practice had been discontinued by the time she joined the league, but “we did have to wear dresses and skirts. All we had was shorts under our little dress, and stockings up to our knees. You paid for it when you slid.”
A shortstop and pitcher in softball, as well as a 5-foot-5½-inch guard on Camden High’s unbeaten basketball team, Simmons found a home at second base, with occasional stints at first, third and outfield. A veteran shortstop, Gertie Dunn, who was the league’s Rookie of the Year in 1952, liked her as a double-play partner.
“If it hadn’t been for her, I wouldn’t have played,” said Simmons, who led all league second basemen in fielding percentage at .972, making only one error all season. “Rookies were lucky to play at all. The coach (Karl Winsch) didn’t care for me. I didn’t like him, either.”
Todd Drinkwater, Maxine’s nephew, said he played a lot of Wiffle ball with his aunt and she even coached against his team in Little League. He now teaches physical education at Bonny Eagle Middle School in Buxton.
“We’d always been throwing, playing catch,” he said. “We were a sports family.”
The mitt that Simmons wore in South Bend now resides on a shelf in Drinkwater’s garage. He pulled it out Wednesday afternoon and was reminded of how much baseball equipment has evolved.
“It looks like a big old ugly mitten,” he said. “I don’t know how they could use it.”
Offensively, Simmons wasn’t a big threat, in part because a childhood broken leg wasn’t set properly. She said that before the fifth-grade injury, she had been able to outrun all her classmates, boys and all. In pro baseball, she said she lost a lot of potential hits to right field by being thrown out at first base. She wound up with a .147 batting average for 95 at-bats in 45 games.
The website of the AAGPBL (Simmons sports the acronym on her license plate) lists one other woman from Maine as a former player: Marie Richardson of Rumford, for Fort Wayne in the 1953 season, with no statistics and a note saying the player has not been located.
“I have no idea where she is or anything about her,” Simmons said.
1ST WOMAN PLAYER IN MAINE BASEBALL HALL OF FAME
The Blue Sox paid Simmons a monthly salary of $60 along with a stipend of $115 to cover living expenses. In 2017 dollars, that translates to $1,592 per month. South Bend finished with a 48-44 record, good for second place, and lost in the first round of the playoffs to the eventual champion, the Kalamazoo Lassies.
The league folded at the end of the 1954 season. Simmons returned to Maine and coached basketball at Camden High. She played softball in Rockland, got married and had a son, now 49. They lived in Newport, where she worked at a community center. But after her husband died in 1989, Simmons returned to Camden to care for mother, who lived until she was 98.
In 2005, Simmons became the first woman player inducted into the Maine Baseball Hall of Fame. She even has her own baseball card, printed a few years after the film was released.
“A lot of my friends in the baseball world have asked for her card,” said Drinkwater, who spoke at his aunt’s induction ceremony. “I’ve dealt out maybe two dozen in southern Maine over the years.”
Although she no longer bowls, cross-country skis or goes ice fishing, Simmons continues to golf regularly. She uses a walker to get around.
“I haven’t fallen yet,” she said with a laugh. “As long as I’m standing up, I’m happy.
Bill Green's Maine video
Author: NEWS CENTER , WCSH
Published: 1:49 PM EDT July 6, 2017
Take it from a woman who knows, 'There's no crying at Hadlock!'
A baseball legend returns to the field in Portland to teach a new generation about the toughness and talent that it takes to "play like a girl"