When noted director and actress Penny Marshall died recently, one area woman was especially saddened. Sara Jane ‘Salty’ Sands Ferguson who lives near Orangeville, a community about 10 miles north of Bloomsburg, played for the Rockford Peaches of the All American Girls Professional Baseball League in 1953 and 1954. The team and the league were the theme of the film, “A League of Their Own” in 1992. ‘Salty’ was a part of the making of that film and grew to know and respect Marshall.
“I was so saddened when I saw about Penny Marshall. Oh my, she really was a great person,” ‘Salty’ told Webb Weekly. “Before she came along with the movie no one ever knew about us. I remember telling people that I had played professional baseball but no one believed me. I even missed my high school graduation to play for the Peaches. Penny with that movie changed that and all of us who ever played in the league are grateful to her for letting the public at large know about us.”
The AAGPBL was in existence from 1943 to 1954, playing in Midwest cities such as Rockford, Illinois, Kenosha, Wisconsin, South Bend, Indiana, and Kalamazoo, Michigan just to name a few. It was almost unknown until the film came along.
“It was a great experience being involved in that film,” ‘Salty’ said. “I got to rub elbows with people such as Penny of course, Rosie O’Donnell, Lori Petty, and Madonna. I didn’t think much of Madonna. I thought she was kind of vulgar and she didn’t really interact with the rest of us that much.”
I have known ‘Salty’ for 25 years and I felt honored and lucky when she asked me to accompany her to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown when a celebration commemorating the 10th anniversary of the film was held there in 2002.
Penny came there with several of the actors who were in the film, including Lori Petty, who played “Kit,” Megan Cavanaugh, who played “Marla Hooch” and Penny’s daughter, Traci Reiner. There were also roughly 25 or so women ballplayers who actually played in the AAGPL. All those former players looked on Penny with great respect and affection. Every one of them expressed to her their appreciation for making a film about their league and showing people what a special experience it was to play in it, as well as rescuing it from obscurity.
“Penny was really nice and never put on any airs. You never knew that she was a famous Hollywood director,” ‘Salty’ said. “She dressed really casually and never worried about hair or make up. She said she never wanted to act in a film again because then she might have to brush her hair. She was a lovely person and I can’t say enough good things about her.”
I once asked ‘Salty’ if she remembered Penny being on the 1970s show, “Laverne and Shirley” and she said, “I don’t remember ‘Laverne and Shirley’ very much. I was always out playing ball, umpiring or some other baseball related activity.”
“Salty,” a former school bus driver, feels very strongly about the role of women in sports and does everything she can to promote it. She has spoken to various girls’ athletic teams, service clubs and school groups about her AAGPBL experience and always emphasizes that “If you have a dream, follow it. Don’t let a small thing like your gender stop you.” ‘Salty’ may be one of the best ambassadors for the league and the cause of women’s athletics around.
‘Salty’ believes that an article that someone sent her about Penny Marshall tells very well how important Penny thought “A League of Their Own” was to her. “Someone asked her, ‘Penny, what do you feel is your greatest accomplishment to date,’” Salty” recalled. “And Penny said, ‘Making the movie about the girls who played professional baseball during the war.”
‘Salty’ added. “I thought that was pretty nice of her to say that.”
Penny is gone now but the memory of the AAGPL lives on because of her efforts in making “A League of Their Own.” For that ‘Salty’ Ferguson and many others are grateful.