PAWTUCKET — When it comes to the Pawtucket Slaterettes Baseball League, Sarah Feeley's daughters never had a chance.
They were going to play – no ifs, ands or buts.
“I don't mind at all; I think it's cool,” said eight-year-old Sabrina Angulo, whose mom – call her “President Feeley” – has already registered her to play in the Minor Division (for those ages 8-11) this season, incredibly the Slaterettes' 39th.
“I like getting up to bat, and when I hit the ball, it makes me proud,” she added. “A lot of my teammates go to different schools, so I meet new people. Having more friends is fun, because I can play catch with more.”
When asked how long she will represent the Slaterettes, one of only a few girls/women's hardball leagues in the country, Sabrina said only, “I think I'll play, probably, until I'm an adult. I have a good time playing ball with my friends.”
It's just in the blood for the Feeley women, which also includes Samantha, 13. Their mom began
playing for the Slaterettes when she was 14, she claimed it was “way back in 1988.
“I never played softball a day in my life; I signed up because I had a ton of friends who played,” Feeley offered. “When I was really young, I used to live in an apartment on Wood Street, and a lot of PawSox players were our neighbors. We'd be out playing ball, and they would come out and join us. We were all just messing around.
“It was pretty cool, as they'd give us pointers, stuff like that, but – back then – we still just considered them neighbors.
“When I got older, we were living on Benefit Street, and I'd play pick-up games on the side roads with the guys and girls who lived around us,” she continued. “After I signed up, I liked it right away – the fast pace of the game, the fact I was with all my friends, the camaraderie that came with it.”
Feeley started out as a third baseman for the team sponsored by a Darlington staple, Howell Smith Druggist.
“It was about that time (the film) 'A League of Their Own' came out, which was amazing because we felt we were carrying on the tradition of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. We thought we were living that movie just like the women did back then (during World War II).
“In fact, our team adopted the personas in the movie.”
After a pause, she laughed, “I was Rosie O'Donnell, the obnoxious third baseman.”
Fact is, the Slaterettes have impacted thousands of women and girls over the years, those who signed on because they wanted to be different and – not so surprisingly – the same as their male counterparts. Yet the league they created and continued has impacted others as well.
Feeley and League Player Agent Deb Bettencourt, another Slaterettes' alumna, discovered about 10 days ago that John Odell, the National Baseball Hall of Fame's Curator of History and Research, had written a blog regarding the Pawtucket-based league and posted it on the hall's Web site.
He did so to recognize it during Women's History Month, which comes every March.
“It was 1973, and change was in the air,” he wrote. “The Equal Rights Amendment had recently been passed by Congress and was sent to the states. President Nixon had just signed Title IX. And, in Pawtucket, R.I., the Darlington American Little League was being sued for refusing to let nine-year-old Alison 'Pookie' Fortin play baseball.
“The situation in Pawtucket was not unique,” he continued. “Little League Baseball had banned girls from its affiliates since the early 1950s, and backed up its decision by voiding the charters of leagues that allowed girls to play.
“In Pawtucket, however, the parents got together to seek a solution other than going through the courts. Why note create a whole new baseball league, one that Pookie Fortin and every other girl who lived in the Pawtucket area could participate in?”
When Feeley and Bettencourt read Odell's words, they flipped.
“John had e-mailed Deb about a month ago and asked her a few questions, and let her know he was writing about the Slaterettes,” Feeley explained. “As soon as it was up on the Internet, Deb and I, as well as the Board of Directors, sent it to everyone we knew. Everybody thought it was really cool, that the Hall of Fame was actually recognizing this little old hardball in tiny Pawtucket.
“I love Pawtucket, so that made me very proud.”
It's not the first time the Hall of Fame has come knocking. In November 2005, Odell informed Bettencourt via letter that officials were renovating the “Women in Baseball” exhibit, the one featuring the teams of the AAGPBL.
“It read, 'Because of the success of the Pawtucket Slaterettes, the Hall of Fame would like to request a Slaterettes jersey that we can put in the Diamond Dreams/Women in Baseball' exhibit,'” stated Feeley, reading from the actual letter. “Deb has always been very involved with women's baseball world-wide, but – when she told me that – I was astonished.
“It's amazing that one of our old jerseys is hanging up there, and right next to a jersey from the USA Olympic Women's Softball team. It feels so good because it's a constant in the hall; it will always be a permanent exhibit.”
Feeley mentioned the league was founded in 1973, with an original name of the Darlington Pioneers.
“Alison Fortin wanted to play in the Darlington American Little League, but the powers-that-be in Williamsport, (Pa.), said, 'Sorry, no girls allowed,'” she said. “Her parents apparently spoke with other parents and decided to create their own league, and – a year later – it became the Slaterettes.
“It's a pretty wild story, that somebody had the courage, the guts, to do something like that back then, but I'm really glad they did.
“When I played in the late '80s and early '90s, most guys would chuckle if you said you were playing hardball,” she added. “I think a lot of them were thinking we meant softball. If they told us that, we'd just say, 'OK, come see us play!'”
Feeley only spent four years with the league, as its age limit was 18.
“I didn't go on to play softball; it was too slow,” she insisted. “Back then, there was no fast-pitch softball, just slow, and we didn't want that.”
In 2003, Bettencourt and fellow board members broached the notion the idea of expanding to women, and it resulted in the founding of an adult travel squad.
“It was all so that women could play again,” Feeley revealed. “There were a bunch of Slaterette (alumnae) around the state who wanted to keep playing baseball, as they had played when they were younger. They got the itch again, or always had the itch but had nowhere local to compete.
“I remember going to Lynn, Mass. to play with that team, and we were up against players from the North American Women's Baseball League. It has folded since then, but we're still going strong.”
When asked if the Slaterettes had won, Feeley giggled, 'I don't think so. They were pretty good! We had just got back together, so we didn't have our groove back.”
Years ago, the Slaterettes offered only three divisions, with those 5-10 playing at Slater Park (by the fire station); those 11-13 competing at Mets Field (on the site of the current Boys and Girls Club of Pawtucket's current School Street diamonds); and those 14-18 at the Daggett Avenue fields (now the Tomlinson Sports Complex).
Nowadays, it has four, including the Instructional/T-Ball (for ages 5-7); Minors (8-11); Juniors (12-15); and Seniors (16 and older).
“When we let the adults back in, the age range was 19-35, but we've had some women as 'sophisticated' as 55,” Feeley chuckled. “Right now, our oldest is 53. Back then, we had girls from all over the state and southeastern Massachusetts, and we still do.
“We have a 14-year-old girl right now who comes down from Boston; we even had a girl whose parents drove her all the way from New Hampshire, but that was a few years ago,” she continued. “I really don't think it's changed all that much. It's still hardball, but it's a very special group. It was then and it is now.
“I mean, there aren't a lot of us out there. We see a lot of the same faces year after year, so you become like one big family.”
Of course, the sign-up fees were lower when Feeley and Bettencourt played. They now are $35 per child for Instructional/T-Ball; $50 for Minors and Juniors; and $100 for Seniors.
The registration periods have come and gone, and Feeley expects to see 200-250 players on the fields when the 2012 season opens, but she insisted no one will ever be turned away, regardless of the time of year.
“It's not too late to sign up; we're always accepting registrations in any division,” she said. “If anyone wants to play, tell them to contact me. The way I see it, the more the merrier.”
The league will conduct tryouts for the Minor and Junior categories this Saturday from 9:30 a.m.-noon inside the Curvin-McCabe Elementary School gymnasium, but a girl of any age may register on site.
The regular seasons for those divisions begin April 23 and run through the end of June.
For the Senior Division, tryouts are tentatively slated for the first Saturday in May; those tilts will take place from mid-June through late August, and – yes – all divisions conduct playoffs.
“You know, we've got girls who've played their entire lives,” Feeley said. “One is Stephanie Phillips, who still lives in Pawtucket. She's been with us over 20 years. And we'll have girls as young as four or five playing for the first time this year.
“Honestly, I credit our success to the present and past boards of directors who have worked so hard, and, most importantly, the girls who play,” she added. “Without their interest in hardball, we wouldn't be here. A lot of our new recruits are referrals from other players who revel in the Slaterettes.
“Do I play? Not anymore, but I do miss it. I'll always say, 'I'll do it next year,' but I'm too busy on the administration and parenting sides of it. Maybe I will play again, but I have to get in shape first.”
That is NOT a prerequisite, so anyone interested in signing up may call Feeley at (401) 230-7638. For more information, or to register on-line, visit www.slaterettes.com .