ROCKFORD — Hundreds of girls from Alaska to Florida are heading to Beyer Stadium next week to play ball at the historic home of the Rockford Peaches.
More than 200 girls ranging from 7 to 17 years old plus their families will travel from all over the U.S. to participate in the Baseball for All national tournament, making it the largest girls baseball tournament in history, according to the organization’s website. The event is hosted by Baseball for All, the International Women’s Baseball Center, Friends of Beyer Stadium, the Rockford Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, the city of Rockford and Winnebago County.
From 1943 to 1954, Beyer Stadium was home to the Rockford Peaches of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. The team achieved iconic status after release of the 1992 blockbuster “A League of Their Own.” Nowadays, it’s the playing field for the Rockford Starfires, another women’s baseball team.
The Baseball for All nationals will kick off with an opening ceremony at 6 p.m. Thursday at Beyer Stadium and the adjacent future home of the International Women’s Baseball Center. The tournament concludes July 31. This is the third year for the national games; previously tournaments were played in Orlando, Florida, and San Francisco.
“Having girls play on Beyer Stadium is continuing the glory the film so well captured,” said Baseball for All founder Justine Siegal. “The girls gain power when they realize they’re part of a long line of history of girls and women playing baseball. Playing at Beyer Stadium is going to be like magic.”
Players will participate in the opening ceremony and will have access to a tournament bowling party and umpire clinic, a pitching clinic with former minor league player Ila Borders, a chance to meet former Peaches Maybelle Blair and Shirley Burkovich and more. Some games will be played at Mercyhealth Sportscore One, but more will take place at Beyer Stadium.
“You’re going to see this incredible connection from 8 years old to 17 years old to 90 years old, all of them with a love for the game,” Siegal said.
Paloma Benach, 13, will be traveling to Beyer Stadium from Washington, D.C., with the rest of her team, D.C. Force. “A League of Their Own” is one of her favorite movies.
“It’s a big deal,” she said. “I’ve never seen the field or been involved with anything related to ‘A League of Their Own.’ I’m going to try as hard as I can for the women who came before us and set the path.”
The tournament is projected to generate $108,000 in economic activity, said Andrea Mandala, spokeswoman for the Rockford Area Convention & Visitors Bureau. About 600 hotel rooms will be booked during the tournament, Mandala said.
“Baseball is such an important sporting event to have hosted here,” Mandala said. “It’s one more piece of the puzzle that builds on that legacy.”
In addition to Baseball for All, the American Amateur Baseball Congress World Series will return to Rockford for a third year from July 28 through Aug. 9 at Sportscore 2, generating $720,000 in economic activity.
The national tournament was brought to Rockford this year to coincide with the 25th anniversary of “A League of Their Own.” The tournament represents more than the film, said Kat Williams, president of the International Women’s Baseball Center, which is raising funds to open a brick-and-mortar location across the street from Beyer Stadium.
“One of the reasons we’re coming to Rockford is so we could connect pioneers of the past with the pioneers of the future,” Williams said. “Nationals is about the girls coming to play baseball.”
Adam Poulisse: 815-987-1344; email@example.com; @adampoulisse