"Sandy Koufax and Nolan Ryan had nothing on me."
Maybelle Blair isn't shy about how great of a ballplayer she was back in the day, when she played for the Peoria Redwings of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League in 1948. And she isn't shy about her effort to raise funds to open a center to honor women in baseball -- the International Women's Baseball Center.
The inspiration for the character Mae Mordabito, played by Madonna in the 1992 film "A League of Their Own," Blair is now doing everything she can to help girls and women in baseball have what she calls "a home of their own."
"We want girls to be able to have a home of their own just like the boys do in Williamsport, Pa.," Blair said on MLB Network's Hot Stove show Wednesday morning. "And there would be no better place than Rockford (Illinois), where the Rockford Peaches played baseball. We have a property right across the street from Beyer Stadium, and we want to have a museum of our own and a Hall of Fame of our own, and an activity building with batting cages and umpire schools. That's what we want to do."
The AAGPBL operated from 1943-54, an organization born during World War II as many Major League ballplayers were drafted into the military. In 1988, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum opened a permanent exhibit dedicated to the AAGPBL. But Blair says it's time for more than just an exhibit -- it's time for a museum and Hall of Fame dedicated solely to women in baseball. To that end, Blair and others have been working hard toward raising enough funds to make that dream a reality.
"If you'll notice in the stands, there's as many women as there are men [at baseball games], maybe more sometimes," Blair said. "We love baseball just as well. We can't compete with men, we don't want to. What we want to do is have a facility all our own in Rockford, Illinois."
Blair was part of the group of women who went into the Baseball Hall of Fame to view the new AAGPBL exhibit in the closing scenes of "A League of Their Own." That was surely a thrill for her, as well as all of the women who were able to see their accomplishments enshrined in Cooperstown. But the 94-year-old ex-ballplayer would like to do the same in a center dedicated to women in the American Pastime someday.
"We have to do this," Blair said. And when she was asked about where to get more information, she pointed to InternationalWomensBaseballCenter.org, after which she made a request.
"I want you to have your finger real sharp for when you press that fundraising button," she said.
Just as she stepped in the batter's box so many times more than 70 years ago, Blair is looking for donors to step up to the plate to help make the International Women's Baseball Center a reality.