Growing up across from Comiskey Park, home to the Chicago White Sox, Mary Julia Orban was bound to develop a love for baseball. But she also had athletic skills, along with other neighborhood girls, which soon became all too apparent to the neighborhood boys.
“The story we were told was that the boys all dropped out because the girls were too good for them,” said her daughter, Julia Abel. The story must have been true, because the girls’ team (they called themselves the Rinky Dinks) was invited to play in a tournament at the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago.
The teens were victorious, beating a team from Indiana 39-9. Mary Julia played third base and occasionally left field.
She went on to become a lifelong baseball fan, which is saying something: She died on Feb. 25 at the age of 100.
In fact, it was at her 100th birthday on Dec. 2 that Mary Julia got the thrill of her life. Her memorabilia and trailblazing adolescence became a part of an historical exhibit developed by the Minnesota Twins.
“Mom had saved her gate pass to the World’s Fair,” said Abel, of Edina. “Years later, when she started an autograph collection, she collected signatures on that card.”
She also passed along her love of the game to her daughters; Anderson Women’s Day at the Ballpark, spanning four generations, was a family tradition. Orban had married Milton Anderson, who worked for Northwest Airlines. They were together 71 years before he preceded her in death seven years ago.
At some point, Abel and her sister, Sharon Dudziak, of Chanhassen, attended a talk by Clyde Doepner, team curator for the Minnesota Twins. Doepner remembers that they had to leave unexpectedly, having gotten a call from the Pines in Richfield, where their mother lived. But they left their contact information with him, wondering if he’d like to see some of their mother’s memorabilia.
He did. Along with her Rinky Dinks jersey, they had her old gate pass, now covered with autographs from players that included Willie Mays, Harmon Killebrew, Brooks Robinson, Jim Palmer, Hank Aaron and Reggie Jackson. “She had 24 autographs, 21 of whom were members of the Baseball Hall of Fame,” Doepner said. He set about building an exhibit incorporating Mary Julia’s collection, then brought them in a glass case to her 100th birthday party.
“I think it just absolutely was the peak experience of her life,” Abel said. The exhibit will become part of a larger historical display at Target Field.
Doepner seems almost as thrilled as Anderson was.
“This is an important diversity issue,” he said, harking back to the 1992 movie, “A League of Their Own,” about a women’s baseball team during World War II. Anderson “became a symbol. We now have a uniform of a woman who showed young women back then, and continues to show girls from high school to Little League, that they’re as likely to become successful athletes whatever sport it is.
“She was so much fun that day,” Doepner added. “She said, ‘I’ve told the story, but now everybody gets to actually see it.’ ”
When she wasn’t watching baseball, Anderson was a fastidious housekeeper, “the queen of clean,” Abel said. “She always warmed the plates for dinner, and would mention it if I didn’t.”
The daughter of Hungarian immigrants, Anderson spoke Hungarian at home until she entered school. She lived 64 years in Richfield. The family long enjoyed their lake cabin near St. Cloud.
She is survived by her two daughters, four grandchildren and four great-granddaughters.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. March 19 at St. Peter’s Catholic Church, 6730 Nicollet Av. S. in Richfield. Visitation will be held at the church one hour before services.