Rockford celebrates 30 years of 'A League of Their Own'

July 3rd, 2022

ROCKFORD, Ill. -- "A League of Their Own" recently celebrated 30 years since it premiered in theaters on July 1, 1992. And to recognize baseball’s highest-grossing movie, the city of Rockford hosted a two-day festivity to commemorate the milestone in honor of the Rockford Peaches.

The Peaches were a part of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League from 1943-54 and won four league titles. Of course, they were also the main focus of "A League of Their Own," which featured a legendary cast that included Geena Davis, Tom Hanks, Madonna, Rosie O’Donnell and Megan Cavanagh.

Cavanagh -- who played Marla Hooch in the film and is an Illinois native -- "reprised” her role and showed up at iconic Beyer Field wearing Hooch #32 on the back of her shirt. She greeted guests, signed autographs and appeared in the celebrity softball game on Saturday.

“It's crazy,” Cavanagh said. “It’s very funny to see Hooch 32 on the backs of all these people, and I feel honored. I’m really, really grateful and happy that they wanted me to come out here and do this.”

Beyer Field hosted many events on Saturday, but it operated as the home of the Peaches for 12 seasons and still remains an important part of the game's history.

“Beyer Field is so important in the history of baseball,” said Kat Williams, president of the International Women’s Baseball Center. “It’s important to Rockford, but this is why we do what we do. It’s about preserving the history of girls and women and all aspects of the game.”

Despite striking out in her only plate appearance in the softball game -- unable to channel her inner Hooch from 30 years ago -- the actress was extremely grateful to be a part of this celebration. The ability to come together and be an inspiration for girls and women of all ages is something she never expected to happen.

“I’m so happy to be here,” Cavanagh said. “It’s really heartwarming, and it’s wonderful to be able to be a part of this, to raise money for the IWBC team and create a place for women in baseball, like Cooperstown for men.”

Saturday’s celebration of the film brought everything full circle as Cavanagh stood right where the Peaches played all their home games. But it was also bittersweet for an original AAGPBL player, Maybelle Blair.

Blair, 95, is one of the last surviving women who played in the league. She was a pitcher for the Peoria Redwings, and the celebration will be a moment she will not forget.

“There is no telling anybody the emotions that are going through me right now, because for years, I wanted this to happen in Rockford,” she said. “To have a home for the women in baseball and look at these people out here supporting, it’s so wonderful. It just made me five years younger. I tell you, it’s going to keep me around for a while.”

Blair was not only an inspiration for the movie, she also has become an even bigger inspiration for young girls.

“Girls know lines from that movie,” Williams said. “We have Blair here, girls know who she is, and [the movie] is relevant because of that. It’s relevant because every girl, every kid, needs to know that they belong.”

That inspiration is something that Blair takes to heart, because she wants girls today to feel what she did when she first put on that baseball uniform in 1948.

“The best moment was when I put on my uniform and I was walking down onto the field and my cleats started going clickety-clack, clickety-clack,” Blair said. “The sweetest music I’ve ever heard, and I’ll never hear it again. It was beautiful and I knew I was a pro baseball player.”

Along with a meet-and-greet of both Blair and Cavanagh and the celebrity softball game, MLB held a Play Ball event for children ages 5-12. The kids participated in a number of baseball activities, including running the bases, taking ground balls, and everyone’s favorite, a classic home run derby.

“This morning, I got here at about 6:30 and no one was here, and I looked out at the beautiful field,” Williams said. “And then, a couple hours later, I look across and [see] a stream of kids coming in through the outfield and I just thought, ‘Oh man, this is what it’s about.’”

As "A League of Their Own" celebrates a major milestone this year while looking back on the history of women's baseball in the 1940s. That’s also a big reason why the film remains relevant even 30 years later.

“It’s the highest-grossing baseball movie ever, which is astounding,” Cavanagh said. “It just keeps gaining in relevance. Like 30 years ago, we hoped that people would like it. Here we are, 30 years later, and it’s wonderful. It’s going to go on way beyond my lifetime. It’s an important movie.”

If you miss the classic movie, don’t worry because a new "A League of Their Own" TV show will debut this summer on Amazon. The eight-episode series will premiere on Aug. 12 to celebrate the hit film, and although it won’t feature the original cast, the Rockford Peaches will be back with a brand-new cast.