PORTLAND – Maxine Simmons, who learned to play baseball with her brothers and neighbors and became so good she played professionally on a team that inspired a movie, will become the first woman to become inducted into Maine’s Baseball Hall of Fame.
Simmons will be inducted with 10 others in ceremonies at a Portland hotel on July 31. Now 69, Simmons was known as Maxine Drinkwater when she broke into the game in her hometown of Camden, where she played with her brothers and neighbors.
“I didn’t have to learn how to play. I just knew,” Simmons said. “We had a good group of neighborhood kids and I lived right near the field.”
She became so good that she played a season in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, which was made famous by the 1992 movie “A League of Their Own” starring Tom Hanks, Geena Davis and Madonna.
Simmons first learned about league in a newspaper article, which told of barnstorming teams playing in Portland and Bangor. She was in high school at the time and she vowed that she would try out if the opportunity arose.
“It was just something I wanted to do,” she said. She was 18 when she tried out in Michigan. The South Bend Blue Sox chose her with its first pick.
Just out of Camden High School, Simmons played second base for the Indiana team in 1954 before the 11-year-old league folded.
Playing in 45 of the team’s 111 games, Simmons was one of the league’s top fielding second basemen, with a .947 fielding percentage. She struggled offensively, however, batting only .147.
The league began in 1943 as a way to fill the public’s appetite for baseball. Professional baseball’s minor leagues had dwindled because players were fighting in World War II, so women stepped onto the diamond.
“They thought the league would blossom. It did for a while,” Simmons said.
Asked how will it feel to become the first woman inducted into the state’s baseball hall, she said, “I think it’s pretty good. It’s been a long time coming.”