Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Orangeville, Columbia County
Sarah Ferguson played for the Rockford Peaches of the All American Girls Professional Baseball League in the early 1950s.
Sarah Jane “Salty” Sands was born on July 27, 1935, in Orangeville, Pennsylvania. In 1952, she became a member of the AAGPBL. She played as a catcher and right fielder during the 1953 and 1954 seasons for the Rockford Peaches of Illinois. After her professional career, she held several jobs and played semi-professional basketball for the Olmsted Angels. She married in 1957 to William Ferguson and had two children. In 1988, she was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame and in 1992 she appeared in the movie A League of Their Own. Ferguson currently resides in Orangeville, Pennsylvania. She drives school buses and gives motivational talks.
Sarah Jane Sands was born to Doyle and Esther Sands on July 27, 1935, in the small town of Orangeville, Pennsylvania. Among her siblings, Jean, Richard, and Joann, she is the youngest. Although she is referred to as “Jane” by her family and friends, Sarah is most famously known as “Salty,” a nickname given by her father when she was a child.
Sands’s father was an avid baseball fan. When Sands was four her father took her to her first baseball game and from that time on she became obsessed with the game of baseball. Whenever someone would ask her what she wanted to be when she grew up, she would proudly tell them “a professional baseball player.” Ironically, Sands had no knowledge that a girls’ professional baseball league even existed.
Sands began her athletic career as a bat girl for Orangeville’s Tri-County League baseball team at the age of six. Unlike the other girls in her town, Sands spent her weeks in anticipation for games each Saturday in which she would throw warm-up pitches to the players. In 1949, when she was a freshman at Bloomsburg High School, Sands played on the girl’s varsity basketball team. A year later, at a time in which there was not much of a place for women’s sports, the program ended. Other than a few occasional pick-up softball games, Sands had no additional athletic experience until 1953 when she became a member of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.
In the fall of 1952, a family friend of the Sands’ was doing business in Allentown with a man named Charles Schuler. After some conversation, the friend came to find that Mr. Schuler was a scout for the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. The moment Sands’ father caught wind of this news he contacted Mr. Schuler, who invited Sands and her father to his home to see Sands perform. After Sands threw five pitches, Mr. Schuler turned to Sands’ father and informed him that he would be sending Sands to the Rockford Peaches in Illinois the following spring for pre-season training. Sands was given permission to finish school early and reported to South Bend, Indiana (home of the South Bend Blue Socks: a team that trained with the Rockford Peaches), in the beginning of May. Sands’ father accepted her diploma from Bloomsburg High School on her behalf on May 15, 1953.
The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League was founded in 1943 by Phillip K. Wrigley (chewing gum magnate and owner of the Chicago Cubs) and lasted until 1954. There was a great fear during this time period that baseball would die out because all the men were at war, which is why women were given the opportunity to play. The teams’ popularity was extraordinary; In fact, in 1948, ten teams attracted over a million fans and several of the teams had attendance records of over 100,000 fans in one season. Sadly, once the men returned home, there was no longer a demand for women in baseball, which is why the existence of the AAGPBL was so short-lived.
Luckily, 17-year-old Sands was able to be a part of this revolutionary time in history when women still had a place in baseball. She played during the final two seasons for the Rockford Peaches, managed by John Rawlings, which was one of the two teams that were part of the league for all 12 seasons. The team played six games a week and double-headers on Sundays. Sands made $200 a month during her first year, and was one of the few girls who were given a raise of $25 a month due to skill level in 1954. During her two years in the league Sands lived with a host family in Rockford, as did the majority of the girls on the team.
At 5’4”, 120 pounds, Sands both batted and threw right and played right field and catcher. She was told by many that she had a “shotgun arm.” Sands made the second All Star team during her second season in 1954. During her professional career she only committed 14 errors in 136 games, with a fielding percentage of .936. She also had 27 assists, most of which were made from right field.
In between seasons, Sands worked as a clerk typist at the Main Capital Building in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. She kept her job there after the AAGPBL ended in 1954. She then got a job as a time keeper at the Middletown Air Force Base in Pennsylvania. It was there that Sands played semi-professional basketball for the Olmsted Angels from 1955-1956. Sands then transferred to the U.S. Naval Air Development Center in Johnsville, Pennsylvania, to be with her future husband, William Ferguson. They were married in 1957. While stationed in Johnsville, Sands, now Sarah Jane Ferguson, was a clerk typist in the procurement office. She quickly gained a position in the security office where she met the original seven U.S. astronauts.
In 1960, Ferguson and her husband returned to Orangeville, Pennsylvania, Ferguson’s birth place, to have their first child, William Jr.. In 1963, Ferguson was asked to coach a little league team in Orangeville. After one season as a coach, she had to take a leave of absence due to the birth of her second child, Tammy, who was born in 1964. In 1968, Ferguson began driving school buses for Central Columbia High School in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania. Although she now had a family and a job, baseball remained an important part of Ferguson’s life. In 1983 and 1984, she coached a local girls slow-pitch softball team. The team won a championship in 1983.
In 1981, 27 years after the end of Ferguson’s professional career with the AAGPBL, one of her teammates organized a reunion for the players. 100 girls from the league, including Ferguson, attended the reunion in Chicago, Illinois. There they discussed the possibility of being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. In 1982, the girls petitioned their cause and on November 5, 1988, the AAGPBL’s display was opened at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY.
Penny Marshall, who played Laverne on the late 1970s/early 1980s sitcom Laverne & Shirley, attended this historical event. She had seen a documentary on the girls of the AAGPBL and talked to the players who attended the opening about making a movie about them. Almost immediately following this encounter, production efforts were underway. In 1991, Ferguson, along with 42 other players, was asked to return to Cooperstown, New York, to film the final scene for the movie. In 1992, Ferguson and her family attended the premiere for A League of Their Own, directed by Penny Marshall, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The movie starred a number of acclaimed actors including Madonna, Tom Hanks, and Rosie O’Donnell. Until this point in time, the AAGPBL was virtually unheard of. The movie, which was dedicated to the players, brought well-deserved fame and recognition to the girls of the AAGPBL that was long overdue.
After the release of the movie, many people wanted to hear about Ferguson’s career as a professional baseball player. She gave her first talk at Wilson College in Pennsylvania in which she talked about the ways in which the Lord intervened in her life and how blessed she had been. Since then, Ferguson has given inspirational talks in retirement homes, schools, parades and many other public events. Above all, she encourages everyone to “always follow their dreams.”
In addition to her many accomplishments, Ferguson was inducted into Bloomsburg High School’s Graduates of Distinction in April of 2003. Then, in 2006 she was nominated for “Woman of the Year” by the Women’s Conference at Bloomsburg University, and won.
Ferguson currently lives in Orangeville, Pennsylvania, with her husband and her dog, Bear. She continues to drive school buses for Central Columbia High School and frequently gives talks within and around the community.