|All-American Girls Professional Baseball League|
|Pitcher / Outfielder|
October 31, 1933 |
|Career highlights and awards|
Isabel Álvarez [״Lefty״] (born October 31, 1933) is a Cuban former pitcher and outfielder who played in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League between the 1949 and 1954 seasons. She batted and threw left-handed.
Isabel Álvarez was the youngest Latina player to join the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, a women's circuit born during World War II and made famous in the 1992 film A League of Their Own. Álvarez was born and raised in Havana, Cuba, and learned to play baseball from a neighbor. At age 13, she joined the Estrellas Cubanas (Cuban Stars), an All-Star team modeled after the AAGPBL. The first AAGPBL spring training outside the United States was held in 1947 in Cuba, as part of a plan to create an International League of Girls Baseball.
From 1948 to 1949 seven Cubanas played in the AAGPBL: Isora del Castillo, Luisa Gallegos, Mirtha Marrero, Migdalia Pérez, Gloria Ruiz, Zonia Vialat and Álvarez. At the age of 15, she joined the league with the encouragement of her mother, who felt United States offered better opportunities than Cuba did. Álvarez had difficulty communicating in her new country, but credited some teammates for helping her through the rough times. Álvarez moved around for a while, as the AAGPBL shifted players as needed to help teams stay afloat. She entered the league in 1949 with the Chicago Colleens, playing for them two years before joining the Fort Wayne Daisies (1951) and then found herself on the move again, this time to the Battle Creek Belles (1951), and then the Kalamazoo Lassies (1953) and Grand Rapids Chicks (1954), before returning to the Daisies in the league's final year (1954).
Álvarez had three teammates in Chicago who were also from Cuba, so they could help one another with the language and other customs. When she moved to Fort Wayne she had no one who really spoke the language, which made the adjustment a bit tougher. Her most productive season came in 1950 with the Colleens, when she posted a 6-6 record and hit a career-high .256 in 12 games. She pitched 13 games with the Daisies in 1951, earning two wins and no losses with seven strikeouts and a 3.23 ERA in 39 innings of work. In 1953 she hit .195 for the Lassies, while collecting career-numbers in games (53), at-bats (123), runs batted in (12) and hits (24).
By the time the league disbanded, Álvarez had become a U.S. citizen, was learning English and began laboring at a number of jobs, eventually finding work at General Electric in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Many years later, she returned to Cuba to visit her family and to try to locate some of the early AAGPBL players, in order to make a documentary titled Cuba on My Mind: The Baseball Journey of Isabel Alvarez. The film was made possible with support from the Indiana Humanities Council. It was shown in 1996 at the Allen County Public Library. Besides this, author Kathy Williams plans to touch upon in a book chronicling Álvarez's life. The book is tentatively titled Life After the League: From La Tilla del Cerro to All-American, and will recount everything from Álvarez's family life in Cuba to her days as a professional baseball player in the United States to life after the league. She displayed talents in a wide range of other sports and activities in her native Cuba, including fencing, bowling and modeling bathing suits.My mother wanted me to be a talk-show radio broadcaster or go into physical education as a gym teacher, Álvarez said. She had me like a little doll. I didn’t know about that. I just played ball.
Álvarez is part of the AAGPBL permanent display at the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum at Cooperstown, New York opened in 1988. She also was honored in 2008 with the Bob Parker Memorial Award, as well as with membership in the Northeast Indiana Baseball Association (NEIBA), for her decades of commitment to the sport of baseball. Then in 2011, she and her AAGPBL teammates from Cuba were honored by having their names and photos presented at a ceremony in New York City. The event was presented by Leslie Heaphy, history professor at Kent State University of Ohio, during the Cuban Baseball Congress held on August 20 at Fordham University.
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