The Hancock-Henderson Quill, Inc.
by Dessa Rodeffer, Quill Publisher/Owner
Seeing Kyle and Kori Mesecher win top honors in baseball comes as no surprise to folks around Henderson County who know their families.
Their mother Connie (Ricketts) Mesecher who grew up playing ball in Oquawka was a power-house pitcher and batter for the first girl's ball team formed by her parents Dean and Nancy Ricketts in 1977.
Like Kyle, Connie also signed to play college softball at Carl Sandburg on a scholarship and played during the 1983 and 1984 seasons.
Their dad, Rod Mesecher enjoyed playing shortstop and center field at the same time his future wife Connie was pitching for Oquawka.
He went on to play Legion Ball coached by Jens Notestein, who had played triple A baseball in his prime.
Rod joined a team at Southeastern for a year where he played outfield before he entered into the work force.
Kyle and Kori's grandparents also were ball players.
Grandpa Ross Mesecher coached their dad Rod in Little League in Stronghurst. As a teen and a young adult, Grandpa Ross enjoyed being the catcher in both baseball and fastpitch softball teams.
Their Grandpa Dean Ricketts, for many years, was the Oquawka Little League coach and Grandma Nancy was the official scorekeeper.
After their daughter Connie played one year on the league, they decided the girls should have their own fastpitch team. So they formed a league that included many of the area towns throughout the county offering girls a chance to play on their own girls teams.
The league continues today and has grown to include many age groups with tournaments played in La Harpe every year.
Dean played in his youth and continued into adulthood on the Gladstone Clippers and other men's fastpitch softball teams.
Kyle and Kori's great grandfather Leslie Ricketts played centerfield for the Farm Bureau Men's Baseball Team in the 1920's and 30's traveling to many places including Brown County, Mt. Vernon, and the Fort Madison Prison in Iowa.
Kyle and Kori's great Aunt Joyce Ricketts, Grandpa Dean's sister, of Oquawka, is listed in the baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY.
In 1950, she caught the eye of a professional softball scout as an outstanding slugger on the Burlington Merchants ballteam, but her father would not let her turn pro until she finished high school.
Once that happened in 1951, she signed with the Rock'Ola Chicks, one of six professional softball teams that made up the Chicago National league.
In 1953, Grand Rapids (Michigan) Chicks manager and former 1920's and 30's Chicago Cubs third baseman Elwood "Woody" English lured Joyce away from the Chicago National League and into the All-American girls Professional Baseball League. She signed with the Grand Rapids Chicks and was one of the "league's most impressive long ball hitters in many years."
After the chick's challenged the Kalamazoo Lassies for the post season championship and won, Rookie Joyce Ricketts was named to the league's All Star Team. In 1954, she was again selected to the All Star team.
Sadly, at the close of the "54 season, the All-American League girls Professional Baseball League folds after 12 years in existence.
It wasn't until 1988, Nov. 5th, in Coopertowns, NY, the league is honored when the Hall of Fame unveils "Women in Baseball" devoted to the ladies' achievements. It was the first of its kind in the previously all-male baseball hall.
Recognition awaits the female athletes who were pioneers of their time keeping the spirit of baseball alive when the men players were called away during the war years.
"Joyce Ricketts, (nicknamed "Rick") a farm girl from the small town of Oquawka, Illinois is present and savors her moment of greatness.
"She and the members who played in the historical women's baseball league (1943-1954) are recognized in baseball history for their contributions to the sport.
"Their names are inscribed on a plaque that is forever housed on the second floor of the nation's baseball shrine."
In 1992, Kyle and Kori's Great Aunt Joyce passed away unexpectedly at her Michigan home only weeks before the motion picture "A League of Their Own" opened across the country to rave reviews for the contributions Joyce and other women baseball players had made.
Then in 2000, Joyce's official baseball card #395 of the AAGPL Players' Association is released.
One of the news clippings reported of her first days with the Chicks filling the right field spot:
"She proved she is worthy of that position last week. Joyce belted out a home run that shattered a window at the far end of South Field in Grand Rapids, during a recent workout."
"Joyce, a 5-feet 7 1/2 inch blue-eyed blonde, has performed as Woody hoped she would when he plucked her off the top-notch Magic Maid softball team in the Chicago National League."
She was hitting .281 with the Maids, and swings a hefty 36 inch bat, a left-handed hitter."
A bit of trivia about all the Ricketts ball players down through the years, including Kori and Kyle: they are all right-handed, but they all bat left-handed.
On the back of her baseball card along with her batting record it states:
"A standout in her two seasons with the Grand Rapids Chicks, "Rick" made the All-Star Team in both 1953 and 1954. A long-ball threat every time at bat, she hit 15 home runs in 1954 and had a batting average of .317. A promising career ended when the league folded after the 1954 season. Joyce passed away 5/8/92."
Although history may be the last thing on these busy teenagers minds, Kyle and Kori are adding another link of baseball greatness to the Mesecher-Ricketts family tree. It will be interesting to see how the story continues.