San Diego Sandpipers

This photo is from the San Diego Sandpipers’ one and only season in the professional women’s softball league started by Billie Jean King in 1976. It features, from left to right, former Orange Lionettes third baseman Sue Sims; pitcher Nancy Welborn, who played for the Eugene Chainsaws and the Lionettes; and catcher Nancy Ito, probably the most famous Japanese American player in softball history.

I didn’t get to talk about Ito in the book as much as I would have liked. By all accounts, she was a phenomenal athlete whose life revolved around sports. She grew up in Colorado during the 1930s and ’40s, the youngest of eight children, all of whom were athletic. She started out playing softball on Japanese American community teams, and by age 14, she was recruited to play on one of the top company-sponsored teams in Denver. By the time she was out of high school, she had competed in national tournaments for both softball and basketball. Ito also played in Chicago’s National Girls Baseball League in the early 1950s. Later, she worked for the Federal Aviation Administration as a computer specialist. She moved to Southern California in the 1960s in order to play for the Lionettes and stayed with the team for 15 years. She was in her early forties when she agreed to play for the Sandpipers. Then the next summer she coached the pro version of the Lionettes in Santa Ana for part of the season. She was inducted into the National Softball Hall of Fame in 1982. Sadly, five years later she passed away from cancer at the age of 54.