Sarah Jane "Salty" Ferguson, who played under her maiden name of Sands, is a young lady who unfortunately didn't reach the All American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) until 1953, its next-to-final season, She played in both of the final two years, for the Rockford Peaches, the team depicted in "A League Of Their Own," although Salty played after the War. Standing 5'4" weighing but 120 she seemed small for a catcher, But she was a scrapper and in her second year made the reserve All Star team. Unfortunately the AAGPBL folded in 1954 and her pro career ended. Salty has been involved in baseball in one capacity or another ever since, from Little League coach to women's softball. Her story:
I was the proud batgirl of the 1949 Orangeville semi-pro baseball team at the ripe old age of 14. When I became the batgirl the wife of one of the players took one of the men's uniforms and cut it down to fit me. I then asked my parents for permission to use an old pair of my shoes. We had a shoemaker in town and I took those shoes up to him. He removed the heels and put a set of cleats on.
I'll tell you, when I put on that uniform and those cleats, I thought I was the greatest thing since sliced bread! On Saturdays I had people that I worked for in town. I would start out early, get my jobs finished, and head home to put on that uniform (no matter what time) and try and wait patiently until it was time to head for the ballpark.
After warm-ups I would go onto the field and shag flies or field grounders. Never got a chance to bat, but that was ok, I honed my defensive skills. When the game started I always hoped that the catcher batted and got on base-that meant he would not be ready to warm up the pitcher so I got to go on the field and do that- Even if the catcher came out while I was warming up the pitcher, he allowed me to finish and throw the ball to second base. The fans loved it!
The team practiced at least twice a week. Couldn't wait for those nights. During a regular game if they put a new pitcher in I usually warmed him up on the sidelines before he entered the game
We had players from other towns who played for Orangeville. Whenever I run into some of these men they tell whoever is with us about what they thought when the manager said, "Salty, go warm up so-and-so-" They say "We thought she is a girl and not very big, how can I warm up throwing to herself threw the ball to her real easy and when she threw it back to me faster and harder than I did, I knew she was OK."
Of course the boys in town would come looking for me when they got a game of sides or round-town going. At school they also allowed me to play. This made the other girls angry and they would steal the only bat and take it into the girl's lavatory, but that didn't work - I went in and got it back.
In my senior year, when I learned that I might play professional baseball, the high school coach allowed me to practice with the boys' team--they accepted it very well. I never even gave it a thought to try and invade boys' baseball-I was satisfied with what they allowed me to do.
Over the years at our high school reunions I had several of the guys who played on the team tell me that the catcher at that time told them, "I hope that Salty never tries out for the team because if she does I will lose my catching job to her." I never knew this, but it sure made me feel good to think he thought I was good enough to do that. That young man died before I knew what he said, so I never got to thank him for the compliment.
My two years in the AAGPBL were as important as college for me- I was a small town girl thrown into the big city. Making a rookie was not easy, some of the veterans resented me. After all, I was there to try and take someone's job. I was helped by the rule that every team had to play at least one rookie each game. I did not care where they played me as long as I got to play. My first love was catching. However, our catcher was an All Star and there was another catcher already on the team. In my two seasons as a pro, I only caught 12 games. The first year I got to play 76 of 110 games. The second year, despite injuries, I got into 60 games- I feel that a learned quite a bit while riding the bench, too. My manager was John Rawlings. My second season I did a lot less striking out and had more extra base hits and a home run. I was not a big hitter, but my strikeout total dropped from 39 in '53 to only 9 in '54, I believe that in time John Rawlings could have made me a pretty fair hitter. I was known for my defensive skills and good arm.
I am truly blessed! The good Lord gave me the love of baseball and the talent to play. I had a dream and God intervened and made it possible. Now it's my turn to repay that debt. I do that by witnessing and giving him the credit, I do talks at schools, colleges and for organizations. I have been in parades, opened boys and girls Little League seasons by speaking and throwing out the first ball. I attended two local SABR meetings and sat on the panel- I signed more autographs than I could possibly count and gave away over 1,000 of my baseball cards. I love every minute of what I do to support all girls in whatever sport they choose.
My reward is meeting so many great kids and their parents. I have made many lifetime friends. Hope I am an asset to the AAGPBL in our quest to promote girls in sports