The Charlotte Knights honored three special ladies who have made significant contributions to the sport in a “Women of Baseball” ceremony at BB&T Stadium on June 13.
Frances Crockett, Jean Faut, and Fort Mill’s own Anna Kimbrell were welcomed onto the field, and Kimbrell threw out the ceremonial first pitch to Colbie Wolf, a Fort Mill girl and standout ballplayer Kimbrell mentors.
“She’s my little buddy,” Kimbrell said. “Her mom texted me yesterday and said ‘Colbie is worried about catching your first pitch.’ So I went over there and picked her up today and all three of us went to the field.”
And all four ladies have had a big impact on the game of baseball.
Last August, Wolf was the only girl member of the Gastonia Grizzlies 8-year-old travel team and got to go to San Francisco to play in a week-long tournament. There she got to see her mentor, Kimbrell, who was playing for the Sonoma Spinners where she was one of just three women playing in an all-men baseball league.
“Since I don’t live here anymore, it’s tougher to be around her anymore, but I went and watched her play in California,” Kimbrell said. “She came to my game one night and then she was playing in an all girls tournament San Francisco and I was able to come watch her play, so it was cool to see her then, but it’s always good to be around her.”
Crockett is a two-time Rawlings Woman Executive of the Year Award winner, claiming that distinction in 1980 and 1985 when she ran the Charlotte O's from 1976-87. She was honored by The Sporting News with the Class AA Executive of the Year Award in 1980 becoming the first woman to win that award at any level.
Kimbrell and Crockett have crossed paths before.
“It was actually funny because Frances used to come watch my games in Rock Hill growing up,” she said. “I went up to her tonight, but she didn’t remember me at first. Then it clicked and she said she knew me and remembered coming to watch, so that was really neat.”
Faut was a starting pitcher in the All American Girls Professional Baseball League from 1946-53. The league, established during World War II, inspired the film “A League of Their Own.” Faut is considered the greatest overhand pitcher in the league's history as she compiled a lifetime record of 140-64 with a 1.23 ERA in 235 appearances. She also threw two no-hitters, two perfect games and led the South Bend Blue Sox to consecutive championships in 1951 and 1952.
Kimbrell said it was neat to share the field with the women who, like herself, have meant so much to the game.
“It’s really special to me,” she said. “I’m from here, I grew up here, I worked for the Knights on the grounds crew for nine years and I helped build the field here. It’s really special and it’s been really fun to see everything come full swing and it’s great to be home even if it’s only for a day. Any time I get to come home is good.”
Kimbrell has made a name for herself in baseball as well.
She began playing in Rock Hill as a kid and starred at Nation Ford High School, where she became the first girl to play varsity ball on a boys’ high school team. Later, she became the first female in South Carolina to play American Legion baseball. Kimbrell went on to Samford University and later the University of Alabama-Birmingham to play softball and has represented the United States on several occasions in the Women’s Baseball World Cup and won a gold medal in the 2015 Pan Am Games.
Last year, she played for the Spinners in Sonoma, Calif., but recently got a new job in Birmingham, Ala. where she is the assistant groundskeeper at Gameday Sports Fields at the University of Alabama-Birmingham.
There, she plays for the Birmingham Juggernauts, a wood bat league for players 18 and older where she is the only woman in the league.
But that’s fine with her.
“I just want to play and I’m glad I have the chance to,” she said.
“I’m the only girl, but it’s so much fun and the guys are great across the board. I haven’t met any guys that have said anything bad about me and it’s really fun. There were times earlier in my career when I’d hear things being said, but I think everyone has matured enough to where I haven’t gotten hit or anything like that. They pretty much treat me like one of the guys and that’s great for me.”
Kimbrell said she’d like to return to Sonoma, but doesn’t think that’s going to happen with her new job.
“I wish that I could go back and play this year, but I don’t think it’s going to work out,” she said. “I just got a new job in Birmingham, so I’ll be there for a while but everything is going really well for me.”