The league had its first games on May 30, 1943, with all the teams located in the Midwest, near Chicago. At a stadium in Rockford, Illinois, only 700 people watched Jochum and the Blue Sox defeat the Rockford Peaches, 4-3, on opening day. League attendance started off small, and many of those who went to the games did so for the novelty of seeing women play baseball.
“You got a lot of people that liked to see the legs and laugh, but they didn’t expect to see you play good baseball,” player Lavonne “Pepper” Paire said in 1992. “We got them out there maybe because of our uniforms, maybe because of the publicity, but we kept them there because we played damn good baseball.”
Indeed, the players soon began winning over more fans with their talents. Wally Pipp, a former New York Yankees first baseman, called one player, Dorothy “Dottie” Kamenshek, “the fanciest fielding first baseman I’ve ever seen, man or woman.”
The players not only helped take people’s minds off the war, they also captured the patriotic mood of the country. During the playing of the national anthem before each game, the two teams lined up from home plate down the first and third baselines in the shape of a “V” for victory. The ballplayers—many of whom had husbands, boyfriends, or brothers off fighting—also played exhibition games at Army training camps and hospitals.
By 1945, the year the war ended, the league’s popularity had exploded, with at least one team even outdrawing the local men’s semipro squad. The league’s popularity reached a peak three years later, expanding to 10 teams and attracting more than 900,000 fans to games.