DALLAS -- As participants and officials wrapped up the inaugural MLB GRIT tournament and development camp on Sunday morning, VIPs sat nearby observing.
There was simply no way to keep Jeneane Lesko and Gloria Rogers away from the event this weekend.
The two are former members of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League of the 1940s and early '50s, and much of their lives today are dedicated to supporting women in sports.
“It is really cool to meet them. It really is,” said Katie Reynolds, 17, of Belmont, Mass., one of a number of campers to meet and take pictures with the legends.
For many, the opportunity to do so was tantamount to meeting Ruth or Gehrig.
“They are legends. They love baseball just as much as I do. Seeing them here is amazing.”
MLB GRIT is a joint project of Major League Baseball and USA Baseball, a camp for female high school players.
It is the most recent in MLB’s promotion of girls in baseball. The Trailblazer Series for girls at MLB’s Compton Youth Academy in California is going into its third year. The Breakthrough Series for high school girls debuted last year at the Dodgertown Spring Training complex in Vero Beach, Fla.
Along with the games and instructional camp at MLB GRIT, the girls have also been privy to special presentations -- including one providing tips about the college-recruiting process and information about careers within baseball.
It’s something Lesko -- who played under her maiden name, Jeneane DesCombes -- could only dream about in her day.
She had never played organized baseball when she went to Spring Training in Battle Creek, Mich., in 1953 with the Grand Rapids Chicks. Lesko had practiced with her high school team throughout her four years, but, “of course, they wouldn’t let me play in games.”
Lesko stuck with the Chicks as a left-handed pitcher for two years. After the league folded in 1955, she played two more seasons on a traveling team.
This type of outreach by MLB could very well “lead to more development of girls teams, so they can participate and not have to travel so far to play against each other.”
“I think it is a better venue for them than to have to play against the boys,” said Lesko, 83, now a resident of Seattle. “I think they learn a lot about who they are and make friends [and] … become more social minded and community involved if they’re playing against people of their own gender.”
Many of the girls who attended MLB GRIT play on their boys high school teams.
When Reynolds returns to Massachusetts, she will be trying out for her high school’s varsity team. There isn’t much choice if you want to play. There aren’t enough girls who want to play to make up girls teams.
Reynolds, now of nearby Plano, Texas, had a different experience -- albeit somewhat typical of that day -- than Lesko. She made the roster of the Rockford Peaches in 1953.
The elation of being one of four to make the team that day didn’t last long, however. Her father sent for her to return.
“I didn’t get to play very long,” Reynolds said. “My dad was a good guy, but he sent my mother and sister to come get me. I was already enrolled in college in Columbia, Mo., but he could have let me play that summer.
“It would have been fun, don’t you think, to stay the summer?”
Reynolds, however, later did get a chance to travel, going to nationals with a softball team.
Only weeks ago, she was at Allen High School helping set up a mini-museum for the All-American Girls league.
Lesko and Reynolds were in the company of Rick Chapman of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League Players Association, which is dedicated to the preservation of the history of the league.
His mother, Dorothy “Mickey” McAlpin Chapman, played from 1943-49 with Racine, Milwaukee, Grand Rapids and Muskegon.
“I tell [the girls] to look at this as an outstanding opportunity,” Lesko said about MLB GRIT. “To remain thankful for the opportunities they have in today’s world to actually be able to get together like this and have this type of operation, this type of equipment, this kind of support -- especially from USA Baseball and Major League Baseball. We hope to join that group and be supportive in the same type of manner.”
When she was in college, Lesko said, “I had two opportunities: I could be a teacher or a nurse, which was the normal thing women did. I wasn’t an average child growing up. I did my own thing.”
The opportunities in baseball aren’t only about baseball. The game and sports generally gave Lesko a chance to see the world.
“Playing ball really gave me an identity,” she said.
An identity is empowerment.
Lesko’s and Reynolds’ playing days were more than 60 years ago. They see a day 60 years hence when the women’s game is even further advanced because of experiences like the MLB GRIT.
Lesko envisions a fully active international women’s game with perhaps annual play.
“If they get enough people in powerful positions,” she said, “they can begin to expand the importance of women’s baseball and maybe [have] a league of their own someday, much like the MLB teams today.”
John Henry is a contributor to MLB.com.