Wrigleyville documentary filmmaker Adam Chu, 29, lost his faith in baseball at age 11 when the Major League Baseball players went on strike in 1994 and his beloved White Sox walked away from what could have been a World Series appearance.

But in the basement offices of the Forest Park Historical Society, Chu is getting excited about baseball again — or more specifically softball, i.e. women’s professional softball.

Chu is an intern for the all-women Chicago Bandits, a National Pro Fastpitch team that just built their own stadium, the Ballpark in Rosemont. Chu, who graduated from the Art Institute of Chicago last spring, was assigned to help with research for sponsorship and promotion, “to help bring up attendance at the games,” he said.

While researching vintage women’s baseball uniforms on the Internet, Chu came across the story of the National Girls Baseball League, and more specifically, Forest Park’s legendary Parichy Bloomer Girls, who played at their own stadium in Forest Park and across the region between 1934 and 1955.

Chu read about a former league member, Brach’s Candy Girls Catcher and League MVP Alice Kolski Lundgren, 87, of Elgin who threw out the first pitch at the Bandits’ opening game in 2009. Lundgren died in 2011.

“The more I learned about this league, the more interesting it became because it was strictly Chicago-based,” Chu said. “Even though the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League had a movie, League of Our Own, made about them and were formed by William Wrigley, Chicago seemed to have forgotten about NGBL.”

Chu called Historical Society of Forest Park Director Diane Hansen Grah to ask if he could take a look at the collection of Bloomer Girls artifacts to find out more.

“When I got here, Diane brought out this big box of Bloomer Girl memorabilia. I was blown away,” Chu said. “It was like finding the Holy Grail.”

Chu quickly learned about some of the women who made the team successful: Pitcher Wilda Mae Turner and Lois Roberts Strenkowski (who always played barefoot).

While All-American League women had mandatory charm-school attendance, wore skirts (“terrible for sliding!”) and had hair and makeup instruction, NGBL players were serious about baseball.

“It wasn’t about the image, for NGBL it was always about the game,” Chu said.

He also learned about Gwen Wong, a Chinese-American left-handed pitcher on the Bloomer Girls team.

“The All-American Girls League did not welcome non-white players and were still segregated. The NGBL had Betty Chapman [who played for the Music Maids in 1951]. The NGBL were more socially progressive and didn’t have that prejudice toward ‘colored’ players,” Chu said.

The Bloomer Girls’ league had “about 500,000 fans and played about 90 games a year in stadiums that sat 2,000 people,” Chu said.

The Chicago Bandits played a vintage uniform game two years ago, wearing the emblems of the AAG Chicago Colleens. They will honor the Bloomer Girls at a “throwback” game in July wearing the team’s long knee socks, linen jerseys over long-sleeves and shorts. The uniforms also had a satin jersey, Chu said, that reflected light better at night games.

Chu and the Historical Society will prepare a historical exhibit for the game about the Bloomer Girls and the NGBL. After the game, Chu and Grau will work on a photo-based book about the NGBL.

Softball began in Chicago, Chu said, with the first national softball game, held at the Century of Progress World’s Fair in 1933. The men’s Windy City Softball Team started the next year.

“Chicago is really the birthplace of softball, and Forest Park has the No-Glove tournament and now will soon have the 16-inch Hall of Fame,” Chu said.

But women’s softball is now more popular than men’s, Chu said, especially with the introduction of the more exciting fast-pitch game.

“I was a skeptic about women’s softball pro teams and didn’t really pay attention to it until Jenny Finch played in the [2004] Olympics,” Chu said.

The Chicago Bandits share the National Pro Fastpitch League with the Akron Racers, Florida Pride, and Tennessee Diamonds.

“It’s a great league,” he said, “and a place for great college softball players to continue their careers.”

While the striking Sox broke his heart, and the 2005 World Series was “bittersweet,” Chu turned to other baseball outlets, like following Japanese baseball.

But softball has him hooked.

“Women’s professional softball has now honestly replaced the White Sox in my life.”

Chu will use his filmmaking skills to shoot scenes for a documentary about Chicago women’s players at the vintage uniform game. His previous documentary work has been a film also about the Century of Progress era, telling the tale of the burlesque dancer Sally Rand.

“I just love Chicago. There’s so much history here,” Chu said.

The Historical Society of Forest Park will co-sponsor the July vintage uniform Chicago Bandits game and provide a display of Bloomer Girls memorabilia.

Director Grah said the society wants to partner to get block tickets and possibly a bus to the game. A Bandit softball clinic for girls may be part of the afternoon if all goes well, she said.

Jean Lotus loves community journalism. She covers news, features, two school boards, village council, crime, park district and writes obits for Forest Park Review. She also covers the police beat for...

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