Why the ‘A League of Their Own’ TV show continues to resonate with fans — and why the Rockford Peaches remain timeless

Roughly 90 miles west of Chicago, Beyer Stadium’s brick ticket booth stands eight decades later as a physical reminder to the history embodied at the baseball field.

The Rockford Peaches and the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League still resonate within baseball and pop culture. Penny Marshall’s 1992 film “A League of Their Own” starring Geena Davis, Lori Petty and Tom Hanks remains the highest-grossing baseball movie after bringing in nearly $133 million worldwide.

Thirty years later, a TV show by co-creators Will Graham and Abbi Jacobson debuted with the same name on Amazon Prime that more deeply delved into the league and women during the 1940s, with the Peaches again serving as a primary backdrop. This iteration, however, centered on race, gender and sexuality within its storytelling.

“Every story — every movie, book, history book or anything — has a level of completeness,” historian Kat Williams told the Tribune. “But every story needs to be mined and what they’ve done is mine what was one of the worst kept secrets of the league and bring it into a 21st century consciousness, and it was absolutely crucial they did that because no one had done that before.

“They went below the surface and they were able to find a lot of truths that people didn’t want out there.”

“A League of Their Own” and its eight-episode season that aired in August 2022 developed a devoted fandom. In the six months since Amazon’s cancellation after initially renewing it for four final episodes last March, fans’ love of the show fueled a tireless effort to get it picked up for a second season by another streaming service.

Those involved with the show sensed they were creating something special, forged out of a unique, magical connection from which weeks of baseball training for the actors helped serve as the foundation. Melanie Field, who played the Peaches’ slugging third baseman Jo De Luca, noted that with most shows, the cast doesn’t meet until the first table read. But with “League,” hours upon hours of tough training on the diamond in the lead-up to production played a huge role in establishing cast chemistry.

“When it came out and that was affirmed to us by the fan base, that was a real cool moment for everybody to realize, OK, this thing that we felt in our hearts every day we went to work, we felt like there’s a reason we’re doing this and this matters,” Field told the Tribune. “I’m hugely motivated as an artist and advocate about increasing representation and the power of representation in the media, particularly for me, as it pertains to fat and plus size actors as well as queer.”

More than 600 women played professionally in the AAGPBL before the league ended in 1954 after 12 seasons. Their legacy of keeping baseball alive during World War II had largely been a footnote until the movie hit theaters and the TV show tapped into the closer reality. As fans have fought to keep the show alive, those within its universe recognize how much it means to so many people.

Inside the fans’ efforts

From the moment Carson Shaw (played by Abbi Jacobson) appears on screen, jumping a fence in a dress with her suitcase and bag of baseball gear, making a mad dash for the train as it pulls out of the station, the future Rockford Peaches catcher is unknowingly running toward a new future.

This frazzled introduction to Shaw kicks off her journey to Chicago for AAGPBL tryouts where she crosses paths with first baseman Greta Gill (D’Arcy Carden), De Luca and pitcher Max Chapman (Chanté Adams), who is not allowed to participate because she is Black.

By the time Carson hopped on the moving train, Kaitlyn Krieg, 35, of Brooklyn, was hooked.

Initially intending to put on the show in the background while working from home in late August 2022, “I turned it off because I was like, oh, no, I have to watch,” Krieg said. “It sucked me in within five minutes and then I just fell down the rabbit hole.”

Abigail Bruffy, 30, of North Carolina, earned a role as an extra during the first episode, appearing as one of the women vying for a roster spot during the tryout and again among the group that finds out if they made a team.

“Since I was teenager I went into so many things like, oh, I just hope two girls look at each other in a meaningful way,” Bruffy said. “For it to be this beautiful, heartbreaking, wonderful story — I felt like we finally had something.”

The show’s reach extends internationally.

Kat Tappe, 27, of Berlin, had never heard of the movie and wasn’t a big baseball fan but checked out the show in January 2023 on a friend’s recommendation because they are a big fan of Carden and “The Good Place.” Tappe immediately loved “League” and has continuously rewatched it. Tappe, earning a master’s in American Studies with a focus on cultural diversity, was drawn to how butch queer women were represented in the show, allowing for more people to feel reflected in the characters.

The All-Star Fruits, as the fandom is known by, initially hoped for more than the four-episode final season that had been announced last March 14. Now they are trying to get it back, period, following the cancellation.

Every weekday at 4 p.m., the fandom still holds a Power Hour on Twitter with a different daily theme in which related gifs, quotes and clips are shared with the hashtags #ALeagueOfTheirOwn and #SaveALOTO to get it trending.

While the show received the initial four-episode renewal, fans wanted to convey to Amazon Studios how much “League” meant to them and that it deserved a full season.

Two days after news broke of the abbreviated final season, the fandom hired a plane to fly over Los Angeles with a banner — “Renew A League of Their Own #MoreThanFour” — and captured the attention of the cast and crew.

The All-Star Fruits also collectively bought nearly 100 pies from a queer bakery, each packaged with a letter detailing why the show was so important to them that were delivered on March 29 to Amazon Studios executives. The idea was a riff off a scene when Carson bakes a “conversation” pie to give to Peaches manager Dove Porter (Nick Offerman) in hopes of initiating a chat with him about scheduling more practices to help them improve.

On the one-year anniversary of the show’s debut, fans organized a worldwide viewing party with a schedule to account for all the time zones, live tweeting and a Discord call during episodes. A week later, Amazon canceled the show.

The movie version had been a longtime favorite of Abbey Heller, 34, of Washington, D.C., making her initially wary the show would ruin her beloved film. Those concerns were erased within the first five minutes. Heller credits “League” for embracing that she is queer, something she had been weighing since college. Within a month, she came out to her family and friends and eventually shared it on Facebook to coincide with the one-year mark of watching “League.”

“I had never found a label that felt right,” Heller said. “I had never been comfortable really exploring that and so I sort of defaulted to just like, well, I guess I’m straight. I was very slowly getting to the point where I was ready to admit that might not be the case.

“I think about how important it was that the show leads with joy. The realization for me could have been really scary and isolating and instead it was really joyful and hopeful and actually led me to find this whole community on Twitter.”

Julie Rocheleau, 42, of Reno, Nevada, estimates she has rewatched “League” at least 100 times. Rocheleau described the fandom community as home, giving her a close group of queer friends for the first time in her life. Many All-Star Fruits have turned the online friendship into real-life adventures, meeting up across the country: “We all literally will just stop everything to hear each other and to visit each other.”

Roseann Fakhoury, 35, of New Jersey, stayed up until 5 a.m. binge-watching when she first found “League.” By the third episode, Fakhoury acknowledged to herself she was queer, something they had been aware of but hadn’t truly accepted. It was the day after their 34th birthday.

“Watching Carson come into her own, it made me feel seen for the first time,” Fakhoury said. “I have made some of the best friends I’ve ever had in my entire life from this show.

“It could be very easy for everybody to just fall off and kind of forget about it. But the way the show has impacted so many people, it’s really nice to see that everybody’s still fighting for it. I want to be positive about it, I don’t want it to end, you know?”

Added Krieg: “There’s still people who just discovered the show now. It’s not getting any smaller. It’s still growing. I want to believe it’s getting louder.”

The LGBTQ-inclusive series did not shy away from highlighting both the harsh realities of the 1940s and the value of chosen families and queer friendships.

Field found the show’s queer friendships between Jo and Greta, Carson and Max, and Lupe García (Roberta Colindrez) and Jess McCready (Kelly McCormack) to be extremely relatable to her own lived experiences within the community. Her dynamic chemistry with Carden, something Field described as an instant connection, helped the friendship come to life on screen. Field’s favorite part of playing Jo was the exploration of platonic queer love.

Field, 36, can’t even imagine what it would have meant to see this show and her character on TV when she was younger.

“To see someone in her body would have been enough, to see a queer person in her body would’ve been next level,” Field said. “One of the things I love so much about Jo is we’re putting this on the screen and it’s someone who does not have a complex about it. The storyline isn’t about her trying to lose weight or feeling insecure or feeling less than or hating herself. The storyline is about her being a strong-ass, incredible baseball player, an amazing athlete with confidence and loyalty and all of these incredibly admirable qualities.

“In that sense, I completely understand what the fan base is experiencing because I can put myself in that position.”

Perhaps no episode better delivers an emotional whammy than “Stealing Home,” the sixth in the season, which hits hard on and off the field for the Peaches and Max’s journey.

After the Peaches rally to make the championship series against the South Bend Blue Sox, Carson, Greta and Jo celebrate at an undercover queer bar owned by Vi (Rosie O’Donnell) and their wife. A fun night out ends disastrously when the bar is raided by police. Greta and Carson escape by slipping into the movie theater next door and blending into the crowd watching “The Wizard of Oz.” Jo’s fate is revealed the following morning when police drop off the banged-up limping slugger to the Peaches boarding house. For her and the team’s safety, Jo is traded to South Bend.

The devastating sequence is a harsh reminder of the world’s reality. Williams, a consultant on the show, said it was loosely based on an actual story of an AAGPBL player.

“That may be one of the best hours of television I’ve ever seen in my life and I’m glad it made people squirm,” Williams said. “It’s not all about, yeah, you had to wear makeup and you had to wear a dress and we helped win World War II because we kept baseball alive and all of that stuff. And while that’s important, it’s one tiny little tick on this big, long timeline.”

During the trio’s time at the queer bar, the scene cuts between their night out and Max’s visit to her Uncle Bertie (Lea Robinson). Bertie and their wife are hosting a lively queer house party where Max first crosses paths with the mysterious “Es” (Andia Winslow). Max’s night ends on a high note as they kiss, the moment juxtaposed by the violent bar raid.

Graham, Jacobson and the writers’ decision to focus on Black joy in that moment is not lost on Winslow.

“To see love and happiness and joy and frolicking at the same time, that’s what excited people to say, I can be seen and heard, and I can be loved and I can love and it’s not always pain and deprivation,” Winslow said.

‘People should be able to be who they are’

In July, Maybelle Blair visited Wrigley Field to throw a ceremonial first pitch before the Cubs game in conjunction with a celebration of the 80th anniversary of the AAGPBL. While in town, Blair remembered walking down a hotel hallway when a young employee ran up and stopped her. He thanked Blair and told her how much the TV series had helped his parents accept him. Blair also possesses a similarly deep appreciation of the show.

While on a panel following a screening at the Tribeca Festival in June 2022 ahead of the show’s launch, Blair came out publicly for the first time.

“I could not believe that I would ever do that because in my day during the league, we wouldn’t dare ever even mention such a word,” Blair said. “It was such a relief. You have no idea, it felt like all the blood from my head went clear down to my toes and I was a new person. I feel so free now to be able to say the word gay.

“Being in the closet for 95 years, maybe it was a great thing that I wasn’t able to say anything because now it is opening so many people’s eyes to, hey, we are human beings. People should be able to be who they are because that’s what life’s all about.”

Winslow is a professional voice actor who had never worked on camera before landing her role in “League.” But baseball always has been a part of her life on and off the field, including her involvement with the Jackie Robinson Foundation. So when she landed the role as Esther Warner, the star pitcher on Red Wright’s All-Star team, the character from Winslow’s perspective felt like a composition of second baseman Toni Stone and pitcher Mamie “Peanut” Johnson, both of whom played in the Negro Leagues.

“That was very special to me because it felt like research, it felt like I’m adhering to my operating principle, which is curiosity,” Winslow said. “And so I liked the fact that it was a historical context brought to fiction and the fact that we could teach and not just entertain.

“For me, it’s an embarrassment of riches. People’s lives were changing and will be forever changed, and now this show is part of the canon of great sports films and great series about sexuality and inclusion. We talk about Jim Crow in a time when books are being banned and the history of African American countries being negated and erased.”

For Field and Winslow, support from fans has been unlike anything they have experienced.

“It’s really overwhelming, quite frankly, and I don’t mean that in a bad way at all,” Field said. “I hoped there would be a fan base. But in terms of the diehard nature of it, I love it. It’s frickin’ wild.”

That support has carried over to the actors’ other projects too. In the 19 months since the show debuted, Field has run into supporters, often in New York, both in public and at various events. When she saw Carden’s Broadway show “A Thanksgiving Play” last summer, a gaggle of “League” fans who attended the performance gave Field friendship bracelets, homemade adult coloring books and even showed off their Peaches-related tattoos, including one-liners and De Luca’s No. 18.

“We all want to make things that matter, but to actually have the human beings in front of you who are choking back tears telling you that you, your representation on screen, your character, saved their life, changed their life, I mean, that’s the dream for me as an actor,” Field said. “ ‘League’ has been a gift to the fans, sure, but it’s definitely been a gift to me as an artist and as an actor and as an advocate.”

TV show’s legacy

Graham and Jacobson have largely been silent about the fate of the show, though pushed back at Amazon blaming the writers’ and actors’ strikes for the cancellation.

Graham vowed on social media to try to find a new home for it, however, they haven’t provided any further updates. If one season is ultimately all fans get, the show’s legacy is firmly cemented through its revealing storylines about self-love and acceptance and complex characters who better reflect the lived experiences of the AAGPBL players, queer people and Black joy at a complicated time.

“This is not a rewriting of history, but this is an uncovering of history that’s been forgotten and/or subverted,” Winslow said. “We can all take pride in that. The hashtag of the show was #FindYourTeam and we definitely found our team. I’m really glad people could see themselves in the center of a storyline and not on the periphery.”

Field’s interactions with fans still stick with her. The times she has been told by someone they came out because of the show or how they felt seen for the first time on television. The online friendships in the fandom have carried over into the real world. Those moments transcend any wistfulness at what could have been.

“If that’s the legacy of the show, I will be completely happy,” Field said. “To me, that’s what matters. Yeah, I’m devastated as many of us were that it didn’t continue. It was sad for us, and it was sad for the fans. But I know it has left its mark.

“If one person can walk away and be like, gosh, I feel so relieved to know that society at large acknowledges my existence in this character on television, that’s huge.”

Count Blair among those hoping the show somehow gets picked up.

“They need to renew the TV series and let people realize what actually went on and what happened and tell the real story,” Blair said. “There’s so much more that they can tell and people would enjoy.”

As fans wait to hear from Graham or Jacobson about whether the show is officially dead, All-Star Fruits try to maintain optimism as queer shows continuously take the brunt of network’s cancellations. Ultimately, fans such as Krieg and Heller are grateful for the representation and how relevant these queer stories from the 1940s are still relevant today.

“I just refuse to accept defeat because the world is so sad right now, I would like to at least have hope about my gay baseball show,” Krieg said. “Even if we only get these eight episodes, the show changed so many people’s lives and we’ll always have that.”

As Heller put it: “My life is so fundamentally different from what it was at the beginning of August 2022 before I watched that show. And it’s not just different, it’s better. I’m happier. I’m more authentic. I’m more honest with myself and the world about who I am and I’m more confident. And what’s awesome is that I know that my story is so far from unique.”

Baseball’s role in opening doors for generations of women is not lost on Williams. It’s embodied within the show’s DNA.

“This need, this desire, this fact that girls and women have always been part of sports and in this case baseball was brought to the surface and in a 21st century way, I don’t think people are going to forget that for a long time,” Williams said. “Their use of intersectionality and the ways in which gender, race, sexuality, class, all of those things came together to create who those characters were and they just did a beautiful job of it.”

What’s next for women in baseball?

The clickety-clack of her spikes against the cement as she walked from the Peoria Redwings locker room to the field before an AAGPBL game still reverberates in Blair’s mind.

“When I walked into the dressing room and I put on that dress I thought, ‘Oh babe, you’re about the cutest thing God ever made,’” Blair said. “I had become a professional baseball player. You always would have liked to have been one, but there wasn’t anything like that for girls in my day and so I was so thrilled.”

Blair’s one season as a pitcher in the AAGPBL in 1948 can be traced back to growing up in California, where she would sit in front of the radio listening to baseball games during the 1920s and ’30s. By age 6, Blair kept score for her brother while he was outside practicing baseball. After every inning, Blair, who was a huge Chicago Cubs fan, would tell him the score and fill in what happened. Even now, Blair, who turned 97 in January, can still rattle off her favorite Cubs players of that era, from Stan Hack and Billy Herman to Gabby Hartnett and Hack Wilson.

Blair is thrilled by the advances made: “It’s absolutely amazing how the doors have opened.”

Women who grew up before Title IX was signed into law in 1972 did not have a pathway to playing organized sports. The AAGPBL’s impact on those players’ lives extend beyond what happened on the field.

“Many of those young women, it wasn’t just that they got to play professional baseball, it wasn’t just that they got paid to play baseball, but it opened whole worlds to them,” Williams said. “They traveled, they witnessed and experienced other cultures. Then, playing it out further, they became coaches and they became advocates for women’s sports because of what that league did for them. They kept that going, and they continue to keep it going.

“It gave them an opportunity to grow in confidence, to earn their own money, to travel, to do all of the things that of course sports have been doing for boys and men for eons.”

Justine Siegal founded Baseball for All in 2010, a nonprofit providing opportunities for girls to play, coach and lead in baseball, because she was tired of waiting for opportunities. Siegal is a trailblazer in the sport, most notably becoming the first female coach of a professional men’s baseball team in 2009 and to be employed by a Major League Baseball team when the Oakland A’s hired her in 2015 to coach in their instructional league. Between MLB now supporting girls baseball programming and involvement at the international level, including a Women’s World Cup, the growth for girls and women in baseball has been phenomenal, Siegal said.

“Anytime we can see girls and women shining on the screen, especially in sports, we know we have something special,” said Siegal, who coached the “League” actors and consulted with the writers in her role as baseball coordinator. “Too often we’re inundated with the male image of succeeding and for girls to grow up and see that women have the same success and can have the same successes changes the narrative.”

The International Women’s Baseball Center, located in Rockford, is set to launch a capital funding campaign to build a multimillion-dollar facility across from Beyer Stadium that will be a museum, Hall of Fame, educational center and activity center geared toward providing a home for girls and women in baseball internationally. The IWBC also is renovating and upgrading the field.

After “League” came out, Beyer Stadium experienced a notable increase in visitors, said Williams, an IWBC founder and current CEO. As women’s baseball continues to grow internationally, Williams hopes organizations such as the IWBC and Baseball For All keep laying the groundwork for more support.

“It is a cliche, but if you can’t see it, you can’t be it,” Williams said. “That’s what both the movie and the TV show did and that’s what the IWBC wants to preserve as come and see, look at it. You have a long history. You stand on the shoulders of greatness.”