Ila Borders returns to St. Paul this weekend 20 years after debuting with the Saints as the first woman to play minor league baseball.
Borders, 42, made her professional debut May 31, 1997, pitching in relief. On Saturday at CHS Field, the Saints will host Ira Borders day and honor the lefthanded pitcher with her own bobblehead.
Prior to Saturday’s 4 p.m. game, Borders will sign copies of her new book “Making My Pitch: A Women’s Baseball Odyssey" outside of the stadium. In the book, she covers her journey to becoming the first woman to win a professional baseball game and a trailblazer for women in the sport.
“Anytime you’re a woman trying to break into a male-dominated field you spend time trying to prove yourself,” Borders told the City Pages. “Once [my teammates] realized I wasn’t there to pick up guys or for the publicity -- I was just there to play baseball – I’d see them diving for balls for me, encouraging me. They know how hard it is to play this game."
Borders pitched to three batters in her debut and did not collect an out. However, she struck out the side in her next outing. Borders played four professional seasons and pitched seven games for the Saints before being traded. She earned her first professional win in 1998 with the Duluth-Superior Dukes.
Borders’ best season was 1999 in the Northern League. She was 1-0 with a 1.67 ERA in 15 appearances with Madison.
She told the City Pages that Saints owner Mike Veck offered her a job as a pitching coach after she retired as a player, but regrettably turned it down. Borders now lives in Oregon and works as a firefighter and paramedic. She also makes time to coach baseball, host clinics and participates in MLB’s Trailblazer series mentoring young women playing the game.
“Women really have to fight to play baseball,” Borders said. “Girls play Little League, and then are transitioned into playing softball because it’s seen as the equivalent to baseball when it’s really a completely different game.”
Borders also recently caught up with MLB.com’s Cut4 and said her career was never about being the first woman to play professional baseball.
“I didn't play just two weeks. I played four years, and I got a win. I got a scholarship to play baseball in college, and it paid for my education. I wanted to show that I love the game and I have an opportunity to possibly make it to the Major Leagues, and I wanted to be the absolute best,” Borders said.
“It wasn't about being the first, even though they would put that [on me]. There are three women in the Negro Leagues who played professional baseball before I did. And then Julie Croteau, she was the first woman to play college baseball, but I was the first one to pitch and win in college and get a scholarship. So you have all these different things, but my main thing out there was that I wanted to be the best of the best.”
The Saints also helped produce one of the few female minor league umpires. Former Saints employee Emma Charlesworth-Seiler signed a minor league umpire contract and will call games in the Florida Gulf Coast League this season.
"The Saints were the first professional team to welcome a female player, with Ila Borders," said Sean Aronson, Saints vice president, director of media relations/broadcasting. "It’s only fitting as we celebrate our 25th season, with Ila coming back to be honored on May 27, that Emma has earned this amazing opportunity. We look forward to watching her progress this year and for many more to come and hope to add her to the list of players and staff that reached their dreams of the Major Leagues."