- Associated Press - Saturday, November 1, 2014

ROCKVILLE, Minn. (AP) - She’s never seen the movie.

She never played professional baseball with anybody who remotely resembled Madonna, or Geena Davis, or Tom Hanks, or Rosie O'Donnell.

She’s never been a household name, unless your household was located in Fort Wayne, Indiana, in the early 1950s.

But in her own unassuming way, Jean Havlish has most certainly been a star - on the baseball field, at the bowling alley, on Sports Illustrated’s list of the 50 greatest Minnesota athletes of the 20th century.

Truly, she’s in a league of her own, the St. Cloud Times (http://on.sctimes.com/1vTV7sP ) reported.

“You think, ‘It’s just two years out of 79 years,’ but I wouldn’t trade that for anything,” said Havlish, a Rockville resident for almost four decades.

“A lot of it you can remember like it happened yesterday. Getting there is the fun.”

Havlish got there in 1953 as a 17-year-old rookie shortstop for the Fort Wayne Daisies of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League - the league was glorified (and embellished a bit) in the 1992 movie “A League Of Their Own.” That movie starred the aforementioned Hollywood A-listers.

“I had seen excerpts on TV, and I thought, ‘That’s not the way it was,’” said Havlish, who played two seasons with the Daisies before the AAGPBL folded after the 1954 season.

“There wasn’t anybody I can remember that threw like a girl.”

Havlish’s distinctive three-fingered baseball glove - the gloves currently being used in the World Series all have four - was donated to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2009.

Havlish was still playing catch with it almost until then.

She’s enshrined in the Women’s International Bowling Congress Hall of Fame, the Minnesota State Women’s Hall of Fame and the Minnesota Sports Hall of Fame.

She was No. 36 on Sports Illustrated’s list of Minnesota athletic greats, published in 1999.

It’s all part of an exceptional story that started unassumingly enough in a St. Paul cornfield more than seven decades ago.

“When I was playing ball, I was quick feet, sure hands and a rifle arm,” said Havlish, who came to Rockville in 1975 to work as housekeeper for a Catholic priest.

“Now, it’s quicksand, butterfingers and a popgun.”

It’s been a long time. But her memories are still fresh.

____

Havlish was born in St. Paul in 1935. It was an era when girls often went out of their way to avoid participating in sports, particularly in school.

“Now, women in sports, they flourish,” said Havlish, who lived on Rice Street in North St. Paul. “In my day, you couldn’t get them to go to gym class.

“It was the times. Times change, things change.”

But Havlish’s love of baseball never changed.

“I can’t ever remember not playing baseball,” she said. “Everybody on the north end and Rice Street played baseball. Everybody.

“We only had to go about a half mile, and we were in the cornfields. We’d go play baseball all day down in the cornfield.”

This was the mid-1940s, and girls playing baseball were a rarity.

“There weren’t a lot of girls doing any sports. That was a no-no,” Havlish said. “They’d call you tomboys.

“I don’t know what they (meant), but it never bothered me. I was having fun doing what I was doing.”

Havlish got her first three-fingered glove - a Hank Bauer model that cost a whopping $18.95 - with the help of her father, Howard Havlish.

He owned a furnace cleaning business and let Jean work for a week in exchange for the glove.

“I took care of that glove,” said Havlish, who bought an identical replacement in 1953 when she went to the Daisies (that’s the glove in the Hall of Fame). “I loved that glove.”

She took the glove out to the cornfield, then well beyond.

“When I think about Title IX, I don’t have any thoughts of, ‘If I’d been born 40 years later, it would have been easier,’” Havlish said.

“When there’s nothing out there for you, and then you see something.”

___

The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League started in 1943, when many male major leaguers were away fighting in World War II. It ceased operation after the 1954 season.

Havlish had her first AAGPBL tryout with the Kalamazoo Lassies in 1951, at age 15.

She tried out again the following year with Fort Wayne, and she became the Daisies’ starting shortstop in 1953 at age 17.

She turns 79 on Nov. 23, but Havlish still might be the youngest living AAGPBL alumna.

“It’s a finite number, obviously,” she said. “There’s not too many of us left.”

Havlish hasn’t seen “A League Of Their Own,” primarily because she’s a devout Catholic. That doesn’t mesh well with Madonna, as anybody who has seen her 1989 “Like A Prayer” video can understand.

“Well, see, that’s why I never went to see it. It was her track record,” Havlish said. “She was very offensive, and I take my religion very seriously.”

Havlish also takes her baseball very seriously - and she seriously loved her two seasons with the Daisies.

“I thank God that I was in that era. They were the best women baseball players in the world,” Havlish said. “You’re playing at the top level. It’s just exciting.”

She was a good-field/no-hit shortstop during her rookie year, batting .189 but supplying solid defense for a team that won the regular-season title.

“When I was growing up, I never wanted to bat. I just wanted to chase ground balls. It showed the first year,” Havlish said. “Fort Wayne had four .300-hitters, so they didn’t need me (to hit). I was mostly defense.”

In 1954, Havlish blossomed offensively. She batted .254 with four homers (exactly as many as the Twins’ Joe Mauer hit last season), 95 walks and a lofty .445 on-base percentage.

“The brand of baseball we played was as good as women can play,” she said. “It was good.”

___

Players lived in private homes during the AAGPBL season, which ran from late May through late August. Teams played 106 games in 1953 and 96 in 1954.

“We couldn’t believe we were getting paid to play baseball,” Havlish said. “It wasn’t very much, I’m thinking like $185 a month.”

Teams traveled by bus throughout the league - Fort Wayne and South Bend, Indiana; Kalamazoo, Muskegon and Grand Rapids, Michigan; and Rockford, Illinois - accompanied by the manager and a female chaperone, who also served as traveling secretary.

“You couldn’t fraternize (with players on other teams),” Havlish said. “It was a $25 fine, and $25 was a lot of money.”

Still, the Daisies did exactly that during a 1953 road trip, going out for postgame pizza and beers with the Kalamazoo team.

“We had to come back (to the hotel), and it was past curfew time,” Havlish recalled. “Alice (Blaski, Havlish’s roommate) and I were the rookies, so we had to take the brunt of everything.

“We had to go in the front door, and the rest snuck in the back, up the fire escapes or something. We got caught. We got fined $25.”

The Daisies drew between 1,000 and 3,000 fans for home games, and “Grasshopper” - Havlish’s nickname - quickly became one of their most popular players.

“It said in the program book that I soon became a favorite of the fans,” she said. “I never realized that.”

She realized it even more a few years after the league folded.

Havlish received a letter from a Fort Wayne law office, informing her that an old Daisies fan named Charles Boyer had died - and had left his entire estate to Havlish, instead of to his daughter.

Havlish wrote back, saying the estate should rightfully go to Boyer’s daughter. But she still hasn’t forgotten her would-be benefactor.

“I don’t tell too many people that,” Havlish said. “Every day after that, I remembered him in my prayers for the deceased.”

___

Havlish returned to St. Paul after the AAGPBL folded and worked at a variety of jobs.

She switched from baseball to women’s fast-pitch softball and played for several years on the Minneapolis Comets team that twice advanced to the world championships.

Havlish then took up bowling, starting with a recreational league at a venue owned by Joe Mauer’s grandfather.

She quickly became one of the top female bowlers in the country, traveling on the pro circuit from 1964-74 and maintaining an average of 185 or better for 25 straight years.

In 1975, just shy of her 40th birthday, Havlish moved to Rockville and took a job as housekeeper for the Rev. Maurice Landwehr. He died in 2010, but Havlish still lives at the rectory at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Chapel.

“Almighty God let me play around for 40 years. The next 40, I had to serve him,” Havlish said.

“It’s just about evened up. In June, it’ll be 40 years.”

Baseball, meanwhile, became just a memory - except when Havlish stopped at Corky Scandinato’s Rockville gas station.

“He’d say, ‘Got your glove, Jean? There’s nobody at the pumps,’” said Havlish, who was still playing catch into her 70s. “So we’d go out by the pumps, and we’d play catch until somebody showed up.

“I miss it. I carried it around in my car all the time.”

Her glove went to the Hall of Fame in 2009. Finally, it had outlasted her.

“The only time I feel old is when I try and walk,” said Havlish, who has had a knee replacement. “If I could walk, I’d get the glove out and get the ball out still. I’d be playing.”

___

Havlish still follows the Minnesota Twins, even though that hasn’t been particularly rewarding in recent seasons.

“Well, I did. Not this year,” she said. “It’s like all of a sudden, they dropped off a cliff. All of a sudden, we’ve got nothing.”

She was also following the World Series and rooting for Kansas City.

“I’m going to pull like crazy for (the Royals),” Havlish said. “They’re kind of like in our league. It’s a small market. They’ve been having trouble for a lot of years.

“Remember the Twins in ‘87? Nobody expected them to get past Detroit. All you have to do is get that push behind you.

“If you think you can, you can. I’m excited for them.”

It’ll be fun to watch. But for Havlish, nothing will ever match the thrill of playing.

“Sixty years ago,” Havlish said. “I’ve got a lot of good memories.”

___

Information from: St. Cloud Times, http://www.sctimes.com

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