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Baseball stars, including inspiration behind A League of their Own character, remembered in Heritage Minute

A small town in south-central Saskatchewan was transformed into the American Midwest for production this week on a new Heritage Minute featuring two of the province’s baseball stars. 

The film, produced in Ogema, Sask., features Regina’s Mary “Bonnie” Baker, an all-star back catcher in the All American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL). She is well-known for being the inspiration for Geena Davis’ character Dottie Hinson in the 1992 film A League of their Own.

The film also features Ogema native and Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame inductee Arleene Johnson Noga. 

More than 100 Ogema locals are featured as extras in the film.

A production film crew is happening with people standing and operating camera equipment on a baseball diamond in the dugout.
More than 100 Ogema locals are featured as extras within the film. (Sarah Onyango/CBC )

“It’s definitely great to have this film production happening in town here. We’re really excited to see our town portrayed in this light,” said Kyle Leonard, chair of the Ogema Regional Park Authority. 

He said a lot of work goes into preserving historical facilities like the grandstand at the Ogema ball diamond, which was built in the ’20s. 

“Just to see it showcased and, you know, portrayed in this way goes to say a lot to the people who spent the time to keep it.” 

‘Breakthrough moment’

During the Second World War, female baseball leagues were formed to maintain interest in the sport after the men’s teams were dismantled. 

In 1943, when the AAGPBL was formed, Baker started as a back catcher for the South Bend Blue Sox and in 1950, when she joined the Kalamazoo Lassies, she became the only player to ever hold the position of both player and manager. 

“It’s iconic,” said director Anita Ayres, adding that Baker’s legacy will inspire future generations.

A woman with bangs, a white button up shirt and black rimmed glasses is being interviewed.
Director Anita Ayres said making a Heritage Minute is a milestone for her career. (Richard Agecoutay/CBC)

“It really was a big breakthrough moment when this woman showed up on the scene,” Ayres said.

“Really it was the beginning of professional sports for women. So I think that’s the legacy … I think it was a breakthrough moment for women.” 

Finding the right moments

Production talks began in November. Ayres said it took a while to decide which moments in Baker’s life to select for only a 60-second short film.

“She was in the league for 10 years.” said Ayres. “So we’re just trying to find the right moments to show that career. “

Producers strived to make the film historically accurate. At the time, women had a certain wardrobe and even style of throwing, she said. 

 A baseball dugout with crates of balls, gear hanging from hooks and bats all decorating the inside.
The crew strived for historical accuracy in the production. (Sarah Onyango/CBC)

Michelle Mylett, who plays Baker, said she was excited to be a part of making a Heritage Minute. The Letterkenny actress said she was immediately drawn to the script. 

“When I read it, that was what hooked me,” Mylett said. “It was really smart and quite beautiful.” 

Mylett does not have many lines and said the portrayal of Baker is more grounded in showcasing her as an athlete, something that was often overlooked in her life. 

“It means a lot,” said Mylett. “She was such a trailblazer, an incredible athlete and an advocate for women, which is really cool especially in the ’40s when times were a lot different.” 

A young woman with blonde hair and blue jeans stands across from an older lady with short hair wearing a white dress and denim jacket.
Minister Ross is excited to do a site visit and meet actress Michelle Mylett playing ‘Bonnie.’ (Sarah Onyango/CBC)

Productions are back in Saskatchewan 

Minister of Parks, Culture and Sport Laura Ross said she was pleased to see production starting up again in Saskatchewan. The provincial government boosted funding for the film and television industry last year, after scrapping the old film employment tax credit in 2012 — a decision that had forced the majority of those in the industry to move to other jurisdictions.

“Ogema is the perfect place for this historical vignette,” said Ross. 

“It didn’t take much for them to put this together to make it look really authentic, but also really exciting too for the people within the community.”

Creative Saskatchewan supported the Heritage Minute with $80,000. Heritage Minutes are produced by Historica Canada, with funding from Canadian Heritage and William F. White International Inc.

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