By Leslie Heimbaugh, Knightly News Reporter
Baseball has a permanent place in Professor Paul Miller’s heart. His lifelong passion for the sport has become the foundation for many of his warmest memories.
“As a kid, I didn’t play a lot of sports, but I did play baseball,” the CPC communications professor said recently during an interview on The Knightly News Podcast. “I believe I started when I was six.”
As a child, Miller lived in Mt. Holly Springs with his mom. Even though she was a single parent who worked in Harrisburg – which was quite a drive from their home – she prioritized attending all of Miller’s baseball games.
“She did everything in her power to ensure that I could play because she knew I loved it so much,” he said. “I played until I was about 13.”
Now, Miller’s love of baseball has come full circle. He said that, among other things, he appreciates the sport as an approachable, affordable activity that he can share with his family.
“My son loves to go to games, and he’s obsessed with going to Senator’s games,” Miller said. “Of course, he’s been to several big-league ballparks.”
The film’s a natural
So, it makes sense that Miller would choose to present A League of Their Own – a well-known baseball film, and one of few Hollywood movies that focus on women athletes of that time – for the next installment of the quarterly CPC Film Series. This family-friendly outdoor event is scheduled for May 14, starting at 6:30 p.m., in the Student Fellowship Area, just across the bridge from the Boyer House, behind the apartments that surround the campus quad.
“This is the first time since the pandemic started – at least for the film series – that we’re going to try to do something a little bigger,” Miller said.
The evening will feature plenty of baseball-park food standards, such as hamburgers, hot dogs, popcorn and Cracker Jack. The Central Penn Knights baseball team will be on hand to sign autographs.
The event is free, but donations for food and autographs will be accepted to support the Knightly News Media Club’s many activities.
Miller also is a coach for Challenger Baseball League – for special-needs children, in Camp Hill – and has invited the team members and their families to attend the film screening.
“I’m hoping to have many of those kiddos come out and maybe have a little game of catch,” he said.
Miller will host a short discussion of the film, beginning at approximately 7:15 p.m., and the movie will start between 7:30 and 7:45.
In case of rain, the event will take place in the Capital BlueCross Theatre. An announcement will appear on the Knightly News Facebook page should the weather be an issue.
Box score on the box office
Released in 1992, A League of Their Own originated from the true story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL), which formed in 1943.
According to AAGPBL’s website, by the fall of 1942, World War II forced many minor league teams to disband because so many players were drafted into the armed services. Chewing-gum mogul Philip K. Wrigley – who inherited the Chicago Cubs franchise from his father – formed the AAGPBL as a way to keep Major League Baseball parks at least partially filled with fans before players returned home from the war.
The AAGPBL was initially conceived as a bit of a distraction from the terrors of war – players were subject to strict rules that their male counterparts would never have suffered. Wrigley wanted the women to look and act like wholesome, well-behaved ladies. They were obliged to attend charm school and were forbidden to wear pants, drink alcohol or smoke in public. Their hair had to be at least shoulder-length, and wearing makeup was a must. Failure to meet any of these conditions would result in hefty fines for the players.
As it turned out, the women of the AAGPBL quickly shook off the novelty label. Even by today’s standards, many of these women were stellar athletes.
For example, nicknamed “Flint Flash” for her base-stealing prowess, Sophie Kurys of Flint, Michigan, stole 1,114 bases over eight seasons. Her teammates voted Kurys player of the year in 1946 when she successfully stole 201 bases in 203 attempts that season.
“If anybody knows anything about baseball – I mean the top, top, top mark (for stealing bases) is 100 in 162 games,” Miller said, “even in the major leagues – the best players of all time, like the Rickey Henderson’s of the world – had seasons with 100 steals but nothing like that. That’s incredible.”
Reading native Ruth Kramer Hartman was another wonder. The 5’1” 110-pound pitcher and second baseman earned the moniker “Rocky” because the balls she pitched seemed to turn into rockets that no player in the league seemed able to catch.
Betty J. Warfel, born in Enola, was a member of the Rockford Peaches, the team the movie focuses on, though the characters in the movie are fictitious. Warfel, a righty who threw and batted that way, played multiple infield positions and pitched for the Peaches in 1948, according to an AAGPBL website. In 1949, when the Peaches won the league championship, she played infield, her profile on the site says.
In fact, Enola is a baseball town. It also produced major leaguers Billy Myers and his younger brother Lynn. Billy was a member of the 1940 World Series-winning Cincinnati Reds; Lynn played for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1938 and 1939.
In 1987, PBS aired a documentary (also titled “A League of Their Own”) in which director Kelly Candaele – the daughter of talented AAGPBL athlete Helen Callaghan – told the story of her famous mother and her teammates. As luck would have it, Hollywood director Penny Marshall saw the documentary and quickly decided to make it into a feature film. She used the actual players and their stories to sketch out the film’s cast of characters.
“I think that Penny Marshall did a really nice job preserving some of the characters,” Miller said.
Ironically, had Marshall not seen the documentary, the movie version would most likely not exist. The importance of telling the stories of unsung heroes is not lost on Miller. About a year ago, he was putting the finishing touches on his own short baseball documentary, “The Final Out.”
“When I (made) my documentary on the Central Penn baseball team, it was a story that I wanted to tell, and frankly, I truly believe that if it weren’t me telling the story, it wouldn’t be anyone,” he said. “I think that in terms of the documentaries that we see…that’s the case for many of them. If these stories aren’t told, they end up being lost.”
Miller believes that baseball is America’s national pastime because of the game’s legacy. He says it’s been a significant part of the fabric of our country.
“I have so many fond memories of the game – playing it, now coaching it, going to games – it’s just something that’s always been a major part of my life,” he said.
Heimbaugh is co-president of The Knightly News.