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Ila Borders returning to St. Paul, where she pitched for Saints 20 years ago



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."

Kill: Juggling quarterbacks hurt Gophers while he was coach



Jerry Kill will not make the same mistake he did in 2013 as the Gophers head coach.

Philip Nelson and Mitch Leidner split time as the Gophers starting quarterback, often replacing one another in the role throughout the game. At the time, platooning may have felt like the right approach, but Kill now admits it was wrong.

“I did it, and I think it hurt us,” Kill told NJ Advance Media. “I’d never done it before.

"We can't get carried away and try to do so many things. Even if we have a loss or something doesn't go your way or you get pounded, you just can't throw everything out the door. Sooner or later you have to stick with something."

Kill finds himself in a similar situation leading up to his first season as Rutgers offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Several qualified candidates are fighting for the starting quarterback job and history argues each might get a chance to prove himself during the season.

Rutgers played four quarterbacks in 2016 before Kill’s arrival and the former Gophers coach rotated Nelson and Leidner before eventually settling on Leidner as his starter late in the 2013 season.

“No, I won't do that," Kill confirmed. "That doesn't mean you won't put somebody in a Wildcat situation, but flipping a guy quarter-to-quarter ain't going to happen. I haven't seen very many teams win playing two guys."

The Gophers finished the 2013 season 8-5 and on a three-game losing streak. 

Kill used two quarterbacks at Northern Illinois in 2010, with the backup taking snaps in Wildcat situations. Kill considered using Leidner in a similar way during the 2013 season, but Nelson’s hamstring injury and inability to establish himself as the starter opened the door for Leidner to share the starting role.

Kill at the time said, “We don’t have a big quarterback controversy. We’ve got a darn sophomore quarterback [Nelson] and a freshman [Leidner], and they’re both good players, and they’re both learning on the job a little bit. So that’s where we’re at with all that.”

Kill was learning on the job, too, and will make sure he does not make the same mistake at Rutgers this season.

"In camp, with me and a quarterback, it really comes down to one who understands the system, one who the team is going to follow, one who can get us in the right plays," Kill said, "a guy who is not going to turn the ball over ... and a guy who is going to move the chains.

"If we have a guy turning the ball over, we're not going to be able to play. If you look at last year here – or you look across the board in football – we can't afford to help anybody. Same thing when I went to Minnesota. The turnover thing will be huge in camp."