KENOSHA, Wis. — The love of baseball certainly filled Pleasant Prairie native Joyce (Hill) Westerman for most of her 96 years.
But it went much deeper than that.
Not only did Westerman, who played in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League from 1945 to 1952, make her mark in that venue, that love sprinkled down to every member of her family.
And that's the legacy she left.
Westerman, who died Jan. 18, was remembered recently by her daughters, Judy and Janet Vanderford, who spoke fondly of their mother, the impact she had on women's sports and how that dedication impacted their lives and others as well.
"She was quiet in some respect, never bragging on herself," Judy Vanderford said. "She wouldn't go around and tell everybody, 'I played in the women's professional league.' It would usually take one of us to say something before she would say anything.
"She was always proud of it, but didn't want to brag on herself. She loved her family. She was always there for all of us. She was a very strong and determined lady, very independent, always had a positive attitude about things. She was super supportive of my sister and I our whole life and our kids. She was always there for them and tried to go out of her way to be there."
Janet Vanderford agreed.
"She was very hard working," she said. "She would set goals for herself and was always determined to follow her passion and the things she loved. She valued her family and her relationship with God.
"And she loved baseball. She passed on a passion for the sport. Both my sister and I both coached and played, and our children, all of them played baseball or softball. When they say, 'You throw like a girl,' that has absolutely no meaning for us."
Westerman, a Bradford High School graduate, began her professional career with the Grand Rapids (Mich.) Chicks in 1945. During the next 10 years, she played in Fort Wayne, Indiana, South Bend, Indiana, two different stints in Peoria, Illinois, two years in Racine and finished her career back in South Bend in 1952, the Kenosha News reported.
Primarily a catcher, she also played first base and outfield during her time in the league. In 531 career games, Westerman batted .228 (345-for-1,515), with 191 runs scored, 34 doubles, 14 triples, 167 RBI and 81 stolen bases.
But it wasn't just the on-field moments that stuck with her, both daughters, who each graduated from Tremper High School, said.
It was more the relationships she built and one special spring training trip in a season that ended with a championship that seemed to move to the front of the list.
"The thing I remember my mom always talking about was when she went to Cuba for spring training," Judy said. "My mom had never traveled out of Kenosha before she went to join the league, and then to go to Cuba? She always said that was kind of the highlight of her baseball career."
As Westerman traveled around during the summers, she stayed with "adopted" families, and those relationships stood the test of time, Judy said.
"She held onto those friendships for years after she retired from playing," she said. "Those things were really important. The love of the game, obviously (was), but just the friendships she made and the experiences she had were far different than she would have had as a little farm girl, that's for sure."
When she wasn't on the diamond, Westerman spent her off-seasons working for the United States Postal Service and American Motors to go with her efforts as a younger person on the family farm in Pleasant Prairie.
Westerman was inducted into the Old Timers Baseball Association of Chicago in 2000, the Grand Rapids Sports Hall of Fame in 2003 and the Milwaukee Brewers Wall of Fame. All of the former players in the league also are recognized in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
The love of the game in both her daughters started young, literally.
"I always said I was born with a ball and a bat in my hand," Judy said. "I don't think there was a day I didn't have something in my hands when I wasn't throwing or swinging. I was always outside with my mom and dad (Ray, who died in 2005). I absolutely adored the game.
"I never felt comfortable bragging on my mom as a kid. I would go to school and tell everybody my mom was a professional baseball player, and they would look at me and go, 'Yeah, right.' It wasn't until the movie ("A League of Their Own") came out that people understood really what the league meant."
Janet said their mother, who later also coached (including a six-year run as an assistant at Carthage College), was a stickler for both the basics and the fundamentals of the game and made sure to bring that message to both of her daughters.
"What she was really good at was taking the technique and honing it," Janet said. "You would go over the basics. That was really big to her, and then she was very competitive. It was always 100 percent. If you fell down, got hurt, it was, 'Shake it off.' You never felt sorry for yourself."
That love of the game from Westerman that filled both her daughters then quickly moved into the next generation that includes eight grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
Judy is a lifelong Kenosha resident, and her children all played at Bradford, where both Joyce and Ray would oftentimes find themselves when a game was on the high school or summer league schedule.
And it wasn't tough to find Joyce, either, her daughter said.
"My mom and dad went to every game they could go to, and that was almost every one of them," Judy said. "They hardly ever missed a game. My mom would sit behind the backstop.
"I had two girls who were pitchers and two girls who were catchers. The umpire would get an earful if she felt he wasn't calling a good game. It was just funny. He would turn around to argue with somebody and would look at who it was and turn right back around."
Janet said that she moved around quite a bit, all over the world in fact, during her life, but that didn't stop Joyce's support for her children whatsoever.
"I moved all over the world, so she would come to the other countries where we were and support (my children)," she said.
"Both my sister and I coached, and that was inspired by mom. We just liked the sport and wanted to share it with this next generation so women were empowered. I think that's important and one of the legacies she left, that women can do it. They can be competitive, they can throw hard, they can follow their dreams."
The league reunions that began forming in later years eventually became a staple for the family, both daughters said.
At first it was just Joyce and Ray who attended, but that quickly grew to both Judy and Janet, then their kids, and eventually, a great granddaughter was in attendance to meet many of the former teammates that made such an impact in Joyce's life.
"I think the last three or four, all four of my girls attended with her," Judy said. "They were so proud. Her great-granddaughter came to the last reunion with her, so that was super special.
"The ladies are so amazing to be around. I plan on keeping going if I can. It was fun and amazing my whole life."
The 1992 film "A League of Their Own" — which starred Tom Hanks, Geena Davis, Lori Petty, Madonna and Rosie O'Donnell — took the league from a virtual unknown and brought attention to Westerman and all the women who played for it.
And it was after the film debuted that the attention really ramped up.
"Until the movie came out, no one knew about the league, really," Janet said. "(My mom) had a bunch of memorabilia, went to the (baseball) museum and said, 'I have all this stuff, would you be interested?' Before the movie, they just didn't know how important it was.
"When the movie came out, she had a book written about her, she constantly was being interviewed. I can't even tell you how many baseball cards she signed over the period of her life."
Westerman was featured in two books, "Baseball Hero," written by Bob Kann, and "Queen of Diamonds: The Baseball Story of Kenosha's Joyce Westerman," written by Kenosha native Randy Donais, who died last February.
Judy shared a story about her mother's reaction to learning that Madonna had landed a role in the film.
And at first glance, Westerman wasn't impressed — but when she attended and participated in some of the filming and saw firsthand the efforts Madonna put into the role, she quickly relented.
"She watched Madonna run and how hard she worked," Judy said. "She said she knew it was going to be a great movie right away. She had a lot more respect for Madonna because she did (all the baseball scenes) for herself."
And like most projects that come out of Hollywood, the film tended to stretch things just a bit when it came to reality, Judy said.
But that didn't take away from the impact it made on their mother and their family.
"The movie was a little exaggerated," Judy said. "They never had drunken coaches. But it was a fun, super enjoyable movie. My sister and her watched it a week before she passed away."
And with the impact the game made on the entire family, that seems only fitting in her final days to get one last peak at one of her main loves.