By Kevin Haas
Rock River Current
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ROCKFORD — Things weren’t always peachy for women in the 1940s.
When the Rockford Peaches return to the limelight next month, you can expect the streaming Amazon show to hit on heavier topics that the 1992 movie that made the city’s historic women’s baseball team famous didn’t touch.
“A League of their Own,” an Amazon Prime show with the same name as the movie, will explore issues of race and sexuality, examining racial barriers for Black players and navigating lesbian and queer romance in an era with little acceptance to those relationships.
“This is going to be very different than the movie,” said Kat Williams, president of the International Women’s Baseball Center, who served as an advisor to help the show tell authentic stories. “It’s still the Peaches, it’s still the 40s, it’s still Rockford — all of that — but they are really delving into issues of race and sexuality that, of course, Penny Marshall couldn’t do in 1992.”
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The show will still have the same sense of heart and humor that was on display when the Peaches first hit the silver screen, said Williams, who has seen the eight-episode run. She also said the team of writers, actors, directors and producers did both Rockford and the athletes justice in telling their story.
“I think Rockford will be proud of it,” Williams said. “I think it will have a big impact on IWBC and I think it will have a big impact on Rockford. I hope Rockford is ready because I think we have the jump on this.”
Williams spoke to the Rock River Current in a phone interview Wednesday after Amazon released the first teaser trailer for the show, which is co-created by “Broad City” star Abbi Jacobson and Will Graham of “Mozart in the Jungle.”
The series will premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival before debuting on Amazon Prime Video on Aug. 12.
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It’s a project that’s been in the work for years. When the city celebrated the Peaches 75th anniversary in 2018, a team from the show was on hand to learn more about the Peaches and the city, said John Groh, president and CEO of the Rockford Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, which hosted the crew.
“We’re excited that we’re at the point where, on Aug. 12, this new take on a 30-year-old classic of a 79-year-old team is going to be told to the world again.” Groh said.
The TV crew visited places such as the Faust Hotel on State Street, where players would stay when the first arrived in town, and the train station on Seventh Street, and, of course, the historic Beyer Stadium. The south end of that stadium is the future site for the International Women’s Baseball Center Museum.
Writers connected with former players including Maybelle Blair and Shirley Burkovich, who died in March at age 89, and they met with historians from Midway Village Museum and retired Judge K. Patrick Yarbrough, who helped provide some of the city’s African-American history.
Sometimes, writers would connect to ask simple questions about what players would wear to practice. Other times, Williams said, they asked about life for Cuban-born players. Williams second book is about Isabel “Lefty” Alvarez, a Cuban-born player who died Monday at age 88.
“They’ve embraced Rockford and that story. They’ve embraced Maybelle Blaire and, of course, Shirley Burkovich,” Williams said. “It was very important to them that it be accurate. That they do that story justice, and I think they have.”
The city and the visitors bureau are preparing to capitalize on the new attention coming to the Peaches, who started playing in 1942 as many minor league teams saw their athletes called to serve in World War II. The team continued to play in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League through 1954.
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The visitors bureau is building a website with markers and other tools to help people discover Rockford as the home of the Peaches, Groh said. The visitors bureau will also highlight former players for both their role on the team and their life after baseball.
“Many of these women went on to have very successful and impactful careers,” Groh said.
A mural honoring the Peaches is also slated to be painted at the gateway to the city’s Midtown on Seventh Street.
The series was filmed in Pittsburgh, but Williams and Groh said it does a good job providing a feel for Rockford. Groh is holding out hope that future seasons could have portions filmed here. He noted the legislation Gov. JB Pritzker signed in 2019 that extends tax credits for film production in Illinois through 2026.
Groh also hopes businesses get involved by hosting watch parties or adding menu items and products celebrating the Peaches. Or, he said, community discussions could be held around some of the topics of the show.
“It’s a great opportunity for our city to have a spotlight shining brightly on Rockford and the Peaches,” Groh said.