Notable Neighbors

June 2, 2023 at 11:48 a.m.
Notable Neighbors
Notable Neighbors

By DEAN LAUX Columnist

She's In A League Of Her Own

You could call Susan Parsons Zipay a natural athlete. The second-youngest of seven children born to William and Doris Parsons during the Great Depression, she honed her skills against her older brothers and sisters, and she was readily accepted by the neighborhood kids – male or female – in Hingham, Massachusetts to play in their daily sandlot games, whether it was baseball, softball or even football. “I started playing sports when I was five,” she says. “The first time I put on a pair of ice skates, I could skate right away. Any sport seemed to come easy to me.” In high school she played field hockey, basketball and softball, while sandlot baseball with the guys was a regular thing whenever there was a game.



Sue’s family scraped by in those depression years, and Sue made no plans for college. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” she says. “I thought I’d just get married and be a housewife. That’s what most people did in those days.” But by chance, in her senior year Sue’s softball teacher learned of an opportunity for her. Some ten years earlier, in 1942, a women’s professional baseball league had been formed, and it was still going strong. She knew Sue had the talent, and she sent her name to the office of the All American Girls Professional Baseball League. Lo and behold, a few days later Sue received a contract in the mail to play for the “Rockford Peaches” of the AAGPBL. “I hadn’t known anything about it until then, but I figured, ‘Why not?’ So I got on a train and went to South Bend,” where the League’s headquarters was located.

For the next two years, Sue was a baseball professional at the national level, and she maintained a hectic schedule. “We played every night, and a double-header on Sundays,” she says. Couple that with the travel to and from the four or five midwestern locales where they played, and not much time was left over for anything else. But it was a great experience, and the players loved it.

Alas, the AAGPBL didn’t last. With television blooming, people were staying at home more, and attendance flagged. The founder, chewing gum magnate Philip Wrigley, sold off the rights, and the new owners didn’t have the knowledge and financing to market it properly. The League folded in 1954, though the AAGPBL Players Association continued as an entity representing the former ballplayers. Later on, in 1988, Sue and the other AAGPBL players were inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. in recognition of their contributions to the sport. But in 1954, Sue was without a job.

She went home to Massachusetts and got one with Raytheon as a secretary. But apparently the League had not taken up all of her attention after all, for she’d met Tom Zipay while on tour, they’d had a whirlwind romance, and they were married on Christmas Day of 1954. Tom was to go on to serve in the U.S. Navy as a pilot and in the U.S. Marines as a helicopter pilot before completing his tour of duty and making a career as a pilot for American Airlines. Meanwhile, Sue made a career as a stay-at-home Mom, raising their three children: David, Judy and Bob.

But that doesn’t mean she was inactive. In the early 70s she discovered tennis. “It was easy for me,” she admits, “because the motions with the tennis racquet are similar to those in baseball. But I was self-taught, and so I decided to get instruction at Jack Barnaby’s course in Harvard, Mass. and then at Vic Braden’s college in California, to learn the proper swings and become capable enough to instruct others.” She was a quick study. As a teacher, she began her new career in 1973 as assistant manager and teaching pro at the Pilgrim Tennis Club in Kingston, Mass. As a player, she promptly became nationally ranked in the 40+ division. And as an aside, she opened a specialty tennis shop on Cape Cod.

In 1987, with their children fully grown, Tom and Sue moved to Florida, and after much house-hunting settled in Englewood. In 1989 Sue and her son Bob bought the Englewood Tennis Club, which they have been operating for 34 years now. She has been involved in leadership roles for regional, state and national women’s tennis leagues and their events since then.

But her passion now is focused on baseball. In 1992, women’s baseball got a big boost with the release of Penny Marshall’s light comedy, “A League of their Own,” starring Tom Hanks and Geena Davis. The AAGPBL players, including Sue, were invited to the studio for inclusion in some of the movie’s scenes. Sue was there front and center. After that heady experience, she served on and off as a board member for the Players Association, but she found that the board wasn’t doing anything to advance interest in their sport.

“I got it in my head to do something for women who want to play baseball,” she asserts. “We’ve got ice hockey, wrestling, soccer, tennis, golf and softball. But softball is not baseball, and a lot of women don’t want to play softball. It’s a different game. We need to foster interest in women’s baseball.” In 2019 she founded American Girls Baseball (AGB), a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization affiliated with the AAGPBL Players Association. Its stated mission is to continue the legacy of this famous women’s professional league and provide women with opportunities to train and compete in the game of baseball at every level.

The AGB seeks to recruit sponsors willing to support the sport financially, get donations for specific events and create organized competitive leagues and training programs offering women the promise of a future at the collegiate and professional level.

The AGB’s initial focus has been on the presentation of an annual “All-American Women’s Baseball Classic Tournament,” played in November by four teams: the Rockford Peaches, the South Bend Blue Sox, the Racine Belles and the Kenosha Comets, all of them wearing replicas of the original team uniforms. This year’s tournament will be held in Sarasota’s Ed Smith Stadium, spring training home of the Baltimore Orioles, which can accommodate 8,500 spectators. The ticket price is a bargain $10.

Of course there are costs to the AGB for all of this: training, travel, uniforms, overnight accommodations, meals, stadium rental, game programs and promotion, to name a few. Costs can be mitigated by tax-deductible donations from individuals and corporations, and by using volunteer help for any of its many tasks. At this writing, Sue has signed up two sponsors for the event and is seeking more. The principal financial contributor: Sue Parsons Zipay. The principal volunteer: Sue Parsons Zipay.  

She is truly in a league of her own. But she’d love to have some other folks join her.

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Dean Laux is exploring  interesting folks living in our community. If you know of anyone with an interesting background please send an email to: [email protected]. Include the person’s name, contact info and give a brief description of the person's background.