BAY VILLAGE, Ohio -- Audrey Haine Daniels was a 16-year-old softball player in Winnipeg, Manitoba, when she first heard of the All American Girls Professional Baseball League.
By the time she was 24, Haine Daniels had pitched in six seasons in the girls' league, winning 72 games and throwing 199 innings or more in five of the seasons. She left with memories for a lifetime, her own baseball card and a pride that will not be diminished.
"It was fan ... tas ... tic," she said in her suburban Cleveland home, slowing down for each syllable.
Haine Daniels is one of three panelists at a Thursday night discussion at Ursuline College on the history of women in baseball. The panel is part of a presentation called "Linedrives and Lipstick: The Untold Story of Women in Baseball," a traveling exhibition that has been at the school on Cleveland's East side since Sept. 1.
Haine Daniels was one of the women who made brief cameos in the movie "A League of Their Own," which documented one portion of the women's league. She, like the rest of her former teammates, was a little leery when she heard Madonna had been cast.
"At that time her reputation wasn't the greatest," Haine Daniels said in a family room decorated with photos and memorabilia of her days in professional baseball. "We certainly didn't want her in the movie bringing down our quality of whatever. But they assured us that we had nothing to worry about, that she would do nothing in the movie that would be embarrassing.
"When it came out, we thought it was wonderful."
Haine Daniels took the long road to the women's league. She grew up on a farm in Winnipeg. Dirt poor but determined, Haine Daniels played softball for the St. Anthony Brown Bombers in the Winnipeg Catholic League and (at 16) the St. Vital Tigerettes of the Greater Winnipeg Senior Girls Softball League. She shrugged and said sure when someone mentioned Philip Wrigley's new league for girls and asked if she might want to try out.
"When they offered me $65 a week ... that was a lot of money at that time," she said. "Men, working men, were only bringing $35 per week. When I got the contract, it was fabulous. For several years my mother didn't have to worry."
She joined the AAGPBL, which was formed during World War II so team owners could gain some revenue and keep the game in front of the public while men were overseas. Wrigley had people like Hall of Fame executive Branch Rickey on the board of directors. Teams had 15 players and a chaperone, and players had to adhere to high moral standards. The feminine side was stressed, with a hair stylist hired for spring training and "charm school" classes held after every practice.
Haine Daniels debuted in 1945, when the league was transitioning from softball -- its original plan, with shorter base paths and dimensions -- to regular baseball, with standard base paths and dimensions. But the bigger transition for her was simply going to Minneapolis to join the team.
"I had never been more than 100 miles from home," she said. "I had never ordered or eaten a meal out. I can't even explain it. The first night on the train, I didn't sleep at all. We all had a berth from Winnipeg to Chicago. At first light I just raised the shade in the berth (and) watched the wonderful rolling hills go by.
"It's a memory I will have in my mind forever."
When she got to Minneapolis, she was "scared stiff," she said. So when her roommate and a couple friends decided to go to dinner, Haine Daniels sat in her room petrified.
"I pushed the dresser up against the door," she said. "When she came back she couldn't get in. I was sleeping by then. I don't know if she had to call somebody or what she did. Every time I see Vivian Kellogg we laugh about that."
Her mother visited that first summer, concerned. She left satisfied.
"She saw there was a chaperone," Haine Daniels said. "So she felt OK."
Camaraderie among the players grew quickly and what started as an oddity quickly became something simply about baseball. Teams played 108 games from mid-May through September. "Every day and a doubleheader on Sunday," Haine Daniels said.
"It was fabulous," she said. "We played regular baseball."
More than 450,000 fans watched girls play in 1945 -- up from 176,000 in the first year, 1943. Haine Daniels threw sidearm, with a rising fastball that perplexed hitters. The more successful teams were in small Midwest towns like Fort Wayne, Grand Rapids and Peoria.
"We had great fans," Haine Daniels said. "First of all they came to see what this was. It was an oddity. Then they saw that, hey, these women can play ball."
In 1944, she threw a no-hitter for the Minneapolis Millerettes. She threw another the following season for the Fort Wayne Daniels, when she threw 223 innings, went 16-10 and had a 2.46 ERA, with 101 strikeouts. She won 14, 13 and 17 games the next three seasons, never throwing fewer than 199 innings with an ERA that was as low as 2.89 and never higher than 4.11. Her first manager: Bill Wambsganss, who made the first unassisted triple play in the World Series in 1920 when he played for Cleveland.
She left the league in 1948 to return to Winnipeg, where she was married. But in 1951, she returned and played for the Rockford Peaches. That season she had a daughter, and was featured in the Rockford paper in a story on married women on the team. The photo of her and her daughter Marilyn rests on her mantle and remains close to her heart. In 1998, she was inducted into the Manitoba Baseball Hall of Fame.
The league folded in 1954, but members still get together for an annual reunion -- most recently in Detroit. Haine Daniels said the reunion entails stories and laughs about women doing something that in that day and age few women did.
"If people asked what you were doing, you'd say, 'I play baseball,' " she said. " 'What? You don't play baseball. You mean softball don't you.'
"People kind of pooh-poohed it. Most of us never said much about it after that. My family didn't even know I played until they were 15. Of course I had other things taking up my time, so I didn't talk much about baseball.
"Those were the people who didn't believe what you did. Those people who saw us play believed."
Haine Daniels speaks proudly of her experience, and seems puzzled that anyone would expect it was anything but good-old-fashioned baseball. She also carries memories she says will never leave. One goes back to when she first left Winnipeg.
"My family did not have much, so here I needed a suitcase," she said.
She took the streetcar to Eaton's, one of the main department stores in Winnipeg, with her mother. There they looked at all manner of suitcases.
"We had no money," she said. "I don't know where she got the money. But mind you if she did get it it was legal. Well, we picked out a big, brown, tweed suitcase and off we went. I used that suitcase all the days I played baseball. And after, it was always just something special, as I recall my mother and I looking at those suitcases and that big brown tweed suitcase.
"It's just a little story, but it's one of the things that I remember most. Because I guess I wonder how my mother paid for it."