June 5 (UPI) -- It wasn't a hard decision to make at the time for 15-year-old Katie Horstman: Stay home to babysit, milk cows and feed the hogs, or become a professional baseball player?
She chose the latter, of course, but the cow milking still came in handy. Horstman, 83, calls what happened next the greatest part of her life.
The former Fort Wayne Daisies star played in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League for the final four years of its existence. The league, celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, would later serve as the inspiration for the iconic film A League of Their Own.
The original players will be participating in interviews, events, appearances at the MLB All-Star FanFest, and throwing out first pitches, all leading up to a league reunion in September. Horstman and Betsy "Sockum" Jochum of the South Bend Blue Sox shared their memories in recent interviews with UPI.
Former Chicago Cubs owner Philip K. Wrigley helped form the league in 1943, when World War II was calling Major League Baseball players to the battlefields.
Horstman joined the league in 1951 and played through 1954. Her first manager was Baseball Hall of Famer and legendary base stealer Max Carey. A fellow former farmhand (literally) and another Hall of Famer took charge the next season: Jimmie Foxx.
"When I came up to bat, he looked at me and said, 'Hey are you a farm girl?' I said, 'My gosh does it look like it?'"
"He said, 'You have the wrist action, you must be milking cows.' That was the first time I thought, wow I'm glad I milked cows now."
Horstman used those strong wrists to become an All-Star and later barnstormed around the country, competing against men's teams from 1955 to 1957, after the women's league disbanded. Foxx was an inspiration for Tom Hanks' character, Jimmy Dugan, as the Rockford Peaches manager in the 1992 baseball classic.
While the league originally focused on entertaining crowds in baseball cities, it ended up spring-boarding future generations.
"One of the immediate benefits of the league was that it provided players with enough income to attend college and establish careers that would otherwise not have been possible," league historian Merrie A. Fidler said. "A longstanding impact was that the league served as a model that girls and women were competitive, loved to play highly competitive sports, developed the skill for it and deserved the opportunity to play games in schools and colleges.
"Some of the players and fans who pursued physical education degrees were among the schools and college women who lobbied for the passage of Title IX."
Betsy "Sockum" Jochum is one of the few surviving original players from the league. Now 97, she won the league's batting crown in 1948. Wrigley sent a Cubs scout down to Cincinnati, discovering Jochum, who joined the South Bend Blue Sox after a tryout at Wrigley Field. From there she showed her skills in front of crowds ranging of 2,000 to 10,000.
"It was a very unique league for that time," Jochum said. "Women didn't get paid to play anything really, especially a team sport. It was nice to play the game and get paid to play.
"There was no pressure. We just played and entertained people during the war really."
Jochum was among the 60 women signed up to make $45 to $85 per week to play on one of the league's original four teams: the Kenosha Comets, Racine Belles, Peaches and Blue Sox.
'We would have played for nothing'
More than 600 women played in the league's 12-year run. Jochum was making $100 per week toward the end of her tenure. Some players were making more than $200 during Horstman's time.
That was a fortune at the time for a woman like Horstman, who was making $2 per night as a babysitter. The passage of Title IX in 1972 later led to a revival of women's softball. The law requires that women and men are provided equitable opportunities to play sports and equal treatment of female and male student athletes.
Fast-forward a few decades and you have Monica Abbott. In 2016, the softball star became the first player to sign a million-dollar contract in National Pro Fastpitch.
"Title IX gave women scholarships and things that they never had before," Jochum said. "They have a lot more opportunity than we had in 1943. Our league was very unique for 1943. People weren't getting paid to play the game at that time. Now it's not unusual, but it was then."
Despite women reaching the million-dollar-plateau in the sport, there is still a large disparity between salaries with their male counterparts.
"They should get equal pay but they don't," Jochum said. "People in college, I go to see the Notre Dame women's basketball games. In the men's they are instant millionaires if they can play half decent, but the women aren't."
Horstman is an avid baseball fan with an eagle eye for all of the sport's intricacies. She thinks the focus on fundamentals has decreased in baseball as the salaries have shot up.
"I hope they don't get like the men that they need millions of dollars and after they retire four years later they are broke," Horstman said. "I watch the Cincinnati Reds and they have an average of at least two mental errors. I can find two mental errors every night where they throw to the wrong base or whatever. The next thing is they hold out on a salary.
"We would have played for nothing. I know I would have. We did on the tour basically. On the tour, it really made everybody realize, to be on that tour, you had to love baseball, because you never knew what you were getting after the game. Sometimes we'd have a two-day stand and some nights we'd just travel all over."
The fun nun
Horstman was a Catholic Franciscan Sister for five years after her baseball career. She also spent 25 years as a physical education teacher.
One of her most fond memories as a nun came with a punishment.
Horstman took some of her students on an unauthorized trip to a Chicago Cubs and Reds game at Wrigley Field in the 1970s. She was watching the tight ballgame, until the Reds came back and were winning.
"I was cheering like crazy," Horstman said. "A photographer took my picture and I thought 'oh my god.'
"We had prayer service...a nun died so we said extra prayers. So pretty soon [the mother] tapped me on the shoulder and said I want to see you. I thought oh my gosh because I told those kids never to mention my name and that I took you to the game."
The game was also televised and Horstman was seen by the cameras.
"I had to say three rosaries with my hands in the air," she said. "The kids thought it was funny, but I said you should pray the rosary with your hands up in the air."
The league was recognized in 1988 with a "Women in Basball" exhibit at the Baseball Hall of Fame and still has a presence in Cooperstown, N.Y.
Amazon is in the early stages of developing the league's story into an original series.