In this episode of “The Journey of My Mother’s Son” podcast, I sit down to talk with another one of the living legends of the AAGPBL, Jeneane Lesko.
Another one of the amazing trailblazers that I was able to meet and chat with at the Baseball for All Nationals, Jeneane Lesko is truly an amazing individual. After her playing days in the AAGPBL, she went on to play in the LPGA as well.
Her biography, is best described in her own words, on the AAGPBL website, is as follows:
I went to Spring Training in Battle Creek, Michigan and was picked up by the Chicks as a left-handed pitcher. I actually had no pitching experience and had never played organized baseball. In my home town of Lakeview, Ohio, I had practiced baseball with our school team all through high school, but of course, they would not let me play in the games. I was also the batgirl for our town team of men and practiced with them and went to all the games. I loved the game and had a strong arm.
In Grand Rapids, my manager, Woody English, let me pitch batting practice, but most of the time he had me running in the outfield. My coach and friend was “Beansie” Risinger. She taught me to slow down and believe in myself–two things I really needed to do. I practiced until about mid-season when I was put in to relieve a pitcher and got my first chance on the mound. I didn’t last too long. I walked the bases full and Woody pulled me out of the game. For the rest of the year, I only pitched when we were losing. Our team won the championship, and I was the “rooting section” on the bench. I practiced and practiced and finally got some control.
The following year, I got my big chance in a close game early in the season against Kalamazoo, Michigan. I pitched great relief and earned myself a starting position on the team. I had a wonderful year that season highlighted by a two-hit shutout. I was really looking forward to 1955.
I was in school, a junior at Ohio Northern University, when I received a call early in the spring of ’55 from Bill Allington. He informed me the league was disbanded, but said he was taking a traveling team across the US to play exhibition games against the men and asked if I would like to be on the team. I was ecstatic. For two wonderful years I had the honor to play with some of the best players in the league from other teams, and I had a blast.
At the end of 1957, I graduated from ONU and signed up to teach Math and Science to dependent children at Ramey Air Force Base, Puerto Rico. I stayed there for four years and learned to play golf, fly a piper cub airplane, swim and enjoy the beauty of the Islands.
In 1962, I felt I had to leave “Paradise.” I felt I needed to see more of the world. I tried to get a transfer to Europe, but couldn’t, so I decided to pay my own way and look for a job when I got to Europe.
At the end of the school year, I flew to London, took a boat to France, and a train to Germany to the Dependent Schools headquarters there. They signed me to teach girls’ physical Ed and math in Leon, in northern France. I was very happy, as my ancestry was partially French. I spent the rest of the summer riding a motor scooter through Switzerland, Italy, and France before the start of school in September. In my second year in Europe, I transferred to Chateroux, France, south of Paris. While in France, I took golf lessons from an English pro who played during Bobby Jones’ era. I also took up skiing and spent most of the winter months on weekends in the Alps. I managed to break my leg my first year, but recovered and loved it.
I had an opportunity to transfer in 1965 to Clark Air Force Base in the Philippine Islands. I was excited about that because I could play golf all year round. I played golf every day after school until dark, even during the monsoons.
I returned to the US in 1967 and decided I wanted to become a professional golfer. I spent the summer of 1968 playing golf at a newly opened Club in Grass Valley, California, staying with an aunt who lived there. I established a four handicap and joined the LPGA. My first tournament was in Eugene, Oregon where I finished dead last. I had to go back to teaching that fall, so I took a teaching position in the Bay area, and worked hard on my golf game.
I decided if I was going to make it in golf, I needed to spend all my time practicing, so I left California in the fall of 1968 and went to Scottsdale, Arizona. I found a club that honored my somewhat shakey professional status and allowed me to play and practice at the club.
That year I played in the US Open in Minnesota, and an Open in San Diego. There was another tournament, but I can’t recall where we played. At any rate, I didn’t win any tournaments, but I got a lot of good rounds in and was improving.
One of the Women money winners suggested I to go to the Los Angeles area and take lessons from a pro she had used and made arrangements for me to work with him. That is where I met my husband who was also taking golf lessons from this pro. He was an accountant but wanted to play on the men’s tour.
After a brief courtship, we were married and off to the women’s tour opening in Tampa, Florida. I played in 10 tournaments that year, but my husband injured his hand and had to return to California and our money was gone, so I returned and went back to teaching in San Bernardino, California for a year. I won a pro-Am event and was leading after the second round in the Las Crusas, NM tournament. However, I felt it was my husband’s turn to try to become a pro. He got a job as a teaching pro at a golf course and we started a family.
After the birth of our third child, we decided we wanted to move out of the smog in the LA area. That is how we ended up in Seattle, Washington. I have now lived in Seattle since 1974. I have been in Real Estate here since 1976. I have been involved in sports all my life and encouraged all my children to get involved in sports. I have done a lot of basketball, volleyball, and softball officiating. In 2003, I started the Washington Women’s Baseball Association in my state and coached and served on the board for three years. Now I play on a co-ed senior softball team just to keep the old bones moving.
I went to my first AAGPBL Players’ Association reunion in 1992 in South Bend, Indiana with my middle son Mike who is now a die-hard fan of all the wonderful All-American gals and attends with me whenever he can. I volunteered to be the editor of the AAGPBL Player’s Association Newsletter in November 2001 and served in that capacity for seven years. The newsletter, TOUCHING BASES is published three times a year to help keep everyone informed as to what is happening in the Association.
I served on the Board of Directors for the AAGPBL Players Assoc. from 2002 through 2010. I am thankful for all the years we have all had together since my involvement in 1992. Thanks for all the memories I have of all the players with whom I played or played against and for all the good times shared with all our Association members, loyal fans, and supporters.
I spend much of my time supporting women in sports. I met a young women’s baseball enthusiast while attending an AAGPBL-PA Reunion in 2004 and through a set of unique circumstances became close friends with him and his family. He was from the Chicago area and grew up in Kenosha, WI, home of one of our original four professional teams. He had not been born when the League began, but as a young boy, he had met one of the players who lived in the area and who watched him grow up and play ball. As a result, he had a fondness and love for women’s baseball and promoted its growth in the US and Australia, where he currently lives. It was because of that relationship with Rob that he invited me to participate in 2005 and 2006 in the Women’s World Series at the Disney World Tournament in Orlando, FL. I was an Honorary Coach for the Australian Women and Girls, U11-15, Baseball Teams, which were known as the Aussie Hearts.
In 2007, The Aussie Hearts invited me to go to Australia where I conducted many clinics and showed my power point presentation about the AAGPBL to hundreds of Aussie women ball players. I also was able to visit two schools, one elementary school in Melbourne, and a Junior High in Sydney. I visited the drama class in Sydney to congratulate them on a 2006 presentation they performed on the movie “A League of Their Own.” They won 1st in their state and 3rd in the National Australian competition. They were delighted that I visited them and they performed some of the scenes for me. They gave me a copy on DVD, but, unfortunately, the DVD does not play in the US.
I was deeply touched by the enthusiasm and vitality of the people in Australia and especially those involved in baseball, which is a minor sport there. Women’s baseball has taken off in Australia since the movie, “A League of their Own,” and there are hundreds of women playing “for the love of the game.” I spent two weeks there and fell in love with the country and the people.
Since then, I was privileged to guest coach for the Aussie Hearts in 2008 at the re-dedication ceremonies of Kenosha, Wisconsin’s Simmons Baseball Field where the AAGPBL’s Kenosha Comets played. The Aussie Hearts came to the US-sponsored Women’s Baseball Tournament organized by the city of Kenosha to honor the AAGPBL by having a women’s Baseball tournament in conjunction with the re-dedication ceremonies at Simmons Field. Over 40 former players of the AAGPBL attended that event.
In February, 2009, I was again invited to travel abroad with the Aussies who played in the International Women’s Baseball Tournament, the Phoenix Cup, in Hong Kong, China. There were 10 teams at the event including teams from the US, Australia, Taiwan, Mainland China, and Korea.
In 2010, the Aussie Hearts tour returned to Kenosha, WI and played on Simmons Field, home of the Kenosha Comets and in Racine, at Horlick Field, home of the Racine Belles. We made the circuit of MLB parks and were invited to tour Miller Stadium, and enjoyed games at Wrigley Field and a training camp at the Chicago Cubs’ training facility. Later they were able to watch a Cubs game as well. The tour crossed the border into Canada and played several women’s’ teams in Toronto and visited Niagara Falls for a day from the Canadian side. Later in the fall, the Aussie Sparks, the Softball equivalent to the Aussie Hearts, returned to San Francisco and experienced an intensive two-day training session with the coaching staff at San Jose State College and participated in a three-day women’s fast pitch softball tournament in the Bay area. These events were attended by myself, Joyce Westerman Hill, former Racine Belle, and Jackie Baumgart (Mattson), former player for the Kenosha Comets, in support of girls playing baseball and softball all over the world.
I am the mother of 3 boys. My youngest son, Matthew, is our website technician. He took over the maintenance and development of our website in 2002. I am the coordinator for the AAGPBL website and work closely with Matt to keep our site updated, interesting, and informative. Mike, the middle son, is also in computer gaming. My oldest son Greg, is in the construction business.
It has been a great ride!
~Jeanie Lesko (DesCombes)
Click on either of the links below to listen to the conversation.