Getting to the Ball Field, With a Detour through Cuba

Kenosha Comets, April 1948  in Havanna, Cuba

On Nov. 20, 1946, a letter arrived at a modest middle-class home in Prichard, Alabama. It was addressed to Mrs. Brumfield, the mother of Delores Brumfield, who was 14 years old. The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) letterhead decorated the top of the letter. Max Carey, president of the three-year-old league, had a proposal for Delores, a promising young batter and utility infielder/outfielder. 

“Time is fleeting,” Carey wrote. 

About 160 young female players, along with eight managers and eight chaperons, were preparing to fly to Havana, Cuba for two weeks for the upcoming spring training in March. Carey wanted Delores to join them on the trip. 

Over 300 young women had applied to attend the spring training, Carey wrote, but the League selected 30 new players who were not officially signed to the League yet. 

Delores’ talent for baseball emerged on the junior high field in her neighborhood, which had a baseball diamond. It was near a shipyard where young men during the war worked. They created their own mini-teams to entertain themselves during breaks and used the junior high field as a place to play. They let Delores join, and soon word of her talent spread. 

Men working at a nearby papermill notified her parents of upcoming tryouts for the AAGPBL, and even offered to drive her there. Her mother refused. She wanted to be the one to take her. Borrowing her own mother’s car, Mrs. Brumfield drove Delores, then only 13 years old, 60 miles to Pascagoula, Mississippi to try out for Max Carey. 

Her audition was impressive, but Carey was hesitant to take on a player who was that young. Carey offered her a chance to come to Chicago and train further before joining a team, but Delores’ parents refused. Instead, she joined the Brooklyn Air Force Base softball team and played one season with it. It was her first experience on an organized team. 

Managers in the professional league had kept an eye on Delores since her tryouts. Despite her parents’ rejection of her coming to Chicago, Carey still wanted to push for Delores to join the league for the next spring training. 

In the autumn of that year, Carey’s letter landed on the Brumfield’s doorstep with the new proposal. Leaving her family and going to Havana meant Delores would have to quit high school, which she was more than prepared to do. Cuba was even farther than Chicago, but following the letter, Carey sent over Margie Holgerson to further convince the Brumfields. Margie was from Mobile, Alabama and had been playing professionally for the Rockford Peaches that year. She would be one of the chaperones on the trip and Delores credited Margie’s talk with her parents as the reason they agreed to let her go. 

In addition to paying for transportation and hotel fees, the league gave the women a $3 meal allowance per day, enough to buy a filet mignon with a side of potatoes everyday at the posh Oriental Park Racing Club in Havana.. While joining a team wasn’t exactly lucrative, it provided women with an independent living salary and benefits. 

When the women players got to Havana in mid March of 1947, the male players from major league baseball were already there. The Brooklyn Dodgers, featuring Jackie Robinson, as well as the New York Yankees and the Boston Braves, had already begun playing games against each other and their Cuban League counterparts. Attendance was so low for those games that the Braves lost money during the trip. 

At first, managers questioned whether Cuba was having baseball fatigue from seeing their own league play so often. That theory was quickly squashed when the AAGPBL arrived. The Racine Belles of Wisconsin, reigning champions, brought in a crowd of 15,000 people for their first practice game. 

Like the men’s teams, the women played against their Latin American counterparts, from the Latin American Feminine Basebol League (LAFBL). As a show of respect and camaraderie, some of the respected players from the LAFBL wore the Chicago Colleens jerseys in the dugout during practices. In turn, women from the AAGPBL learned the Latin American game jai alai, in which a ball is thrown using a wicker basket at high speed against a wall. The two weeks were filled with travel all over Cuba, shopping and baseball.  

Spring Training in Cuba for the AAGPBL was a success. For the ’47 season, Delores signed to the Kenosha Comets at the age of 15. While the men’s league decided to pick a cheaper location for the following year, some of the women’s teams decided to return to Cuba after the season was over for post-season exhibition games in 1948. Delores remained in the league until 1953, retiring one year before the league dissolved. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *