Hall of Famer recalls her time in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League for Women's History Month
Norma Berger (Taylor), a Hall of Fame member and Alden Gardens of Bloomingdale resident, recalls her time during one of the most influential moments in American history.
Berger was a pitcher for the Springfield Sallies in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) in 1950.
Growing up in Maywood, Illinois, she developed a love of sports because of her sister Barbara and her father.
"My sister and I were very close to my dad," said Berger. "My dad was a mechanic, always playing catch when he came home with Barbara and me because we were raised in an all-boy neighborhood. There was a park close to us where we'd play softball or baseball with the boys. We were the last two at home, so he took us to ball games, and he took us to Cubs games and Blackhawks games. We were his boys, I guess," laughed Berger.
In high school, Berger played basketball and softball. She described herself as shy but still very sports-minded, so when she left high school sports behind, it only made sense for her to join the AAGPBL. Of course, it helped that her sister was already a part of the league.
"My sister did the tour before I did because she was two years older than I was," said Berger. "I tried out in the summer and got in, and when I graduated high school, two or three days later, I was on the bus traveling. I had never been out of Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin before that."
The Springfield Sallies played in parks and stadiums across the United States and Canada. Berger made $25 a week, including her stipend for food.
"Back in 1950, we could live off $3 a day for food," said Berger. "We traveled first in Illinois. Then we went down south, and we hit Tennessee, and all kinds of states in the east coast -- Pennsylvania, Virginia, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Washington, D.C., Quebec, and Montreal," continued Berger. "We played in Yankee stadium, one inning; they let us play. I was thrilled to play in New York and D.C. because I grew up hearing about it."
By 1950, the league slowly started to phase out, so Berger decided to return home.
"I came home that year, and so did my sister," said Berger. The boys were coming back from the service, and by then, they were returning to the ball game positions they played. Wrigley kept us on, but the pay wasn't that good. Barbara went on to play for a permanent team that didn't travel, the Racine Belles up in Wisconsin before she enrolled in college."
Shortly after returning home, Berger met her husband, Robert Taylor, at a bridal shower. She worked at a bank for a few years while he was overseas in the war. Once he returned, they got married and started a family.
"I put my baseball stuff away in a bin and forgot all about it," said Berger.
It wasn't until the early 1990s, when the movie "A League of Their Own" was released, that prompted Berger to relive her exciting past.
"It was when the movie came out all hell broke loose," laughed Berger. "I was thrilled, just thrilled, when I saw that movie; even though they hammed up a couple of scenes, it brought so many memories back. After the movie, I got asked for autographs every week, received baseballs in the mail to sign, and we went to all these places that had us for autographs, Sox park, Wrigley park, and they sent us to Rockford since the movie was made about the Rockford Peaches out there."
Although the AAGPBL had been recognized and inducted into the Hall of Fame years before the movie's release, it highlighted a pivotal time in American history, bringing more attention and emphasis on the barriers they broke for women in sports.
Now, Berger lives in Bloomingdale, Illinois, at Alden Gardens of Bloomingdale, a Supportive Living Community for adults 65 and older.
The community is known for providing residents a maintenance and carefree lifestyle with on-site care assistance and luxurious amenities like restaurant-style fine dining, an ice cream parlor, a beauty and barber salon, a fitness room, and a host of leisure and social activities. Berger maintains her love of sports at Alden Gardens of Bloomingdale and likes participating in daily fitness activities like chair yoga.
These days Berger enjoys living vicariously through her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, who she says are as sports-minded as she is. She mentioned her great-granddaughter Aubrey, who reminded her of herself as a child.
"That girl, she's going to be my baseball player. She's eight years old, wears her hat backwards and shorts all the time, and likes to play catch. Her dad slung a ball at her in a video, and she was running and caught it," exclaimed Berger.
Berger played one season for the Springfield Sallies and admitted it was one of the most exciting times of her life.
"I loved traveling and building relationships with the girls. It was good for me," said Berger. "I was shy when I went in there. I'm not shy anymore. I don't know how, but it changed me. You're with like-minded people enjoying the same thing, and we just went all out. I'd like to go back and do it again, laughed Berger."
For more than 50 years, Alden Network has provided health care and residential solutions for seniors and has helped them function to the best of their ability and live life as independently as possible.
To learn more about Alden Gardens of Bloomingdale, call (630) 307-7273 or visit www.aldengardensofbloomingdale.com.