Simi Valley Sluggerettes and Oxnard Oxiettes are team names that would probably strike out with today’s softball players who brand themselves The Flames or The Her-ricanes.
But the “-ette” teams of Ventura County, comprising female softball players who pitched, hit and fielded from the 1930s through the 1950s, did their part to dispel expectations about gender. They also defied stereotypes about culture. The members of these multiethnic teams included many young women who proved their strength as Mexicanas.
Female Mexican American cultural empowerment via athletics is just one of the “larger stories” about baseball and softball told in Mexican American Baseball in Ventura County (Arcadia Publishing), said José M. Alamillo, professor and coordinator of the Chicano/a Studies Program at California State University, Channel Islands, and one of the authors of the newly released book.
(“Softball” didn’t make it into the title, even though the book’s cover features Mexican American softball player Agnes Trejo of Oxnard in 1947.)
Alamillo co-wrote the book with Richard A. Santillán, professor emeritus of ethnic and women’s studies at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona; Anna Bermúdez, curator of collections and exhibits at the Museum of Ventura County; Juan J. Canchola-Ventura, a graduate student in history at CSU, Channel Islands; and Al Ramos, historian at the Rancho Guadalupe Society.
The foreword is by Camarillo High School graduate and softball player Jessica Mendoza, a four-time, first-team all-American at Stanford, Olympic gold and silver medalist, and current analyst for Major League Baseball on ESPN.
Alamillo, who grew up in Ventura County, said the book “is really not about baseball per se, but about connections to labor, community, culture and gender identity and roles. It’s about the important role of baseball not only as entertainment, but also as unifier and inclusive community institution.”
Alamillo’s research focuses on the ways Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans have used culture, leisure and sports to build community networks. He and Santillán are working on a larger group collaborative effort, the Latino History Baseball Project, to document the history of Latino softball and baseball in the U.S.
The new book is part of a series about the history of Mexican American baseball and softball in various regions of California. Bermúdez said Santillán recruited her to be a co-author when he was seeking photographs from the Museum of Ventura County’s 2014 exhibition “From the Barrio to the Big Leagues.”
Bermúdez, laughing, said she “didn’t become a baseball fan until 2014,” when she began working on the museum and book projects, but remembers her uncles, cousins and other family members, many of them agricultural workers, telling stories about “going to the Fillmore ball field every Sunday after church.”
Collecting the photographs and stories in the book took “a lot of pounding the pavement and making phone calls” in the community, she said. “None of this can be found on the Internet.”
Most of the team members pictured in the book are no longer alive; the researchers relied on the players’ families to tell their stories.
Men’s teams in the book, such as the Santa Paula Aztecas and Oxnard Aces, didn’t simply play sandlot amateur baseball. The teams were semiprofessional, Alamillo said, meaning that the players had uniforms and sponsors, traveled to play other teams in an organized league and were paid a stipend per game.
“These teams had strong reputations, and several sources told me that major league representatives recruited from Santa Paula and Fillmore,” Alamillo said.
A player for the Piru Merchants, Jack Sauceda, was recruited by the White Sox to play for a farm team in Canada.
The men spent most of their week toiling on farm fields rather than ball fields. So how did they find time and energy to practice and play baseball on their one day off?
“I think the love of baseball is connected to wanting recognition for something other than agricultural work,” Alamillo said. “And it was an enjoyable counterpoint to the harsh realities of agricultural work.”
Baseball and softball teams in Ventura County also included white players, and some African-American league teams included Mexican players, Bermúdez said.
“At this level, baseball was the great equalizer,” she said. “It was really just about who played the best.”
Mexican American Baseball in Ventura County will soon be available from Very Ventura Gift Shop and Gallery at 540 E. Main St., Ventura, and the gift shop at St. John’s Regional Medical Center at 1600 N. Rose Ave., Oxnard. For other outlets and more information call 888-313-2665, email email@example.com or visit www.arcadiapublishing.com.