Women’s Pro Baseball Is Coming to Sarasota's Ed Smith Stadium Nov. 19-22
Despite being “America’s pastime,” women’s baseball faces an uphill battle toward widespread recognition in the United States. Englewood’s Sue Parsons Zipay, who began playing professional baseball in the 1950s, has been fighting that battle for nearly 70 years. Her latest effort in that long campaign is the All-American Women’s Baseball Classic Tournament, which will be played at Sarasota’s Ed Smith Stadium Nov. 19-22.
The organization behind the event, American Girls Baseball, was founded by Zipay in 2019 and is dedicated to the development of opportunities for girls and women in the sport. (Zipay has also championed now-stalled efforts to create a women’s sports museum in Sarasota.)
This month's tournament will feature four teams of women from the highest levels of baseball throughout the U.S. and Canada, including 17 members of the USA Baseball women’s national team. Each team will be coached by a prominent female baseball coach alongside a former Major League Baseball player. The weekend’s events will also include a free girls’ development clinic.
Zipay joined the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) in the 1950s, playing two seasons for the Rockford Peaches. That league, and the Peaches especially, have received renewed fame in 2022 as the subject of Amazon's A League of Their Own series, which was inspired by the classic 1992 Penny Marshall film of the same name.
Though the AAGPBL was founded in 1943 as, arguably, the first women’s professional sports league in the country, girls’ and women’s baseball teams have long been eliminated in favor of softball. (That sport’s governing body, the 90-year-old USA Softball organization, is an official partner of men’s Major League Baseball.)
“Then there was Title IX and pro women’s tennis, pro golf, pro soccer, pro hockey,” says Zipay. “What happened to baseball?”
Part of the problem, she says, is a lack of unification in the sport. Girls can now play Little League Baseball, but their opportunities begin to dwindle in high school. Many talented athletes instead receive college softball scholarships.
“They’re not going to turn that down,” says Zipay. “Then, when they get their degree, they go back to playing [baseball] on men’s teams. In some spots in the country there are women’s leagues, but they’re all isolated. We have to unify.”
The Sarasota tournament will feature players like Tamara Holmes, who began playing baseball at age 8 and sought professional baseball opportunities in high school, around the same age that some boys begin being drafted by pro teams. She played two seasons for the Colorado Silver Bullets, a pro women’s team that travelled to play men’s teams, before the organization folded in 1997. She also won a gold medal with USA Baseball’s women’s team at the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto.
While Holmes has played in front of sellout crowds in countries like Japan and Venezuela, opportunities for American women remain scarce. Despite frustrations, she still believes women’s baseball tournaments like the one in Sarasota can spur much-needed interest.
“We need opportunities to exist, and then we can build on that fan base,” Holmes says. “That’s how institutions survive. They have a following.”
Zipay says she sees the upcoming tournament, in part, as a passing of the torch from her generation to Holmes’ and beyond. Seven other AAGPBL veterans will be on hand as part of the event’s opening and awards ceremonies. Misdee Wrigley Miller, co-owner of the Sarasota Polo Club and grandchild of AAGPBL founder (and chewing gum magnate) Philip K. Wrigley, will throw out the first pitch of the championship game at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 22.
Zipay ultimately dreams of hosting a women’s professional league right here in southwest Florida, using spring training facilities that sit mostly idle through the winter. But her primary intention for this tournament is simply to generate enthusiasm for the talent level of women playing baseball right now.
“It’s really important to these women. And I want the public to see women play baseball,” she says. “They’re really good players.”
Adult tickets to the All-American Women’s Baseball Classic tournament are $10 per day and $5 for teens or $35/$18 for a four-day pass. Children under 12 are free. An All-American Women’s Baseball Bash fundraiser will take place at the Hyatt Regency Sarasota, 1000 Boulevard of the Arts, Sarasota, on Sunday, Nov. 20, and will feature guest speakers, autograph opportunities and a silent auction.