At 82 years old, Dolly Ozburn has lived quite a life.
She was born during the last few years of the Depression, three months early, in North Carolina. She wasn’t expected to live. Her family members would have to give her droplets of cow’s milk and water every hour, hoping she would make it through to another day.
Make it, she did – and then some. She defied expectations and became a strong little girl. She became a major tomboy, defying societal rules and her parents by wearing shorts or pants as a child.
Instead of spending time with other little girls, sitting on the sidelines and talking, Ozburn wanted to play sports. Even now, she admits she has a fiery competitive streak, likely stoked by the fact that she felt she had to prove herself among the group of boys she would play with.
“We would play a sandlot style of baseball,” she said. “We didn’t have any money, but this group of kids got together in an open field, and we made our own baseball field, backstop and bleachers. No one came, but that didn’t matter. By the time I was 11 or 12, I didn’t really know if I was good or not, but I liked to play baseball.”
When she was around 13, Ozburn went to a baseball game and noticed a sign advertising tryouts for a girls baseball league. After the game, she ran home and told her father that she was going to try out.
She did it, and she was good. She was just too young that year.
“They told me they liked me, but I was 13 and just a little too young to compete,” she said. “They told me to come back the next year and try again.”
On the day Ozburn turned 15, she got on a bus to join her new baseball teammates, the Fort Wayne Daisies. She was one of the youngest members of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. The day after, she made her debut with the team.
Thursday night, Ozburn will give a talk at the Laramie County Library, discussing her time in the league and her work consulting for the 1992 Penny Marshall film “A League of Their Own,” which was based on the first year of the league. The event is free and open to the public.
Ozburn ultimately played with the AAGPBL until it was discontinued in 1954. She spent two seasons with the Fort Wayne Daisies and her final year with the South Bend Blue Sox. Following the league’s dissolution, Ozburn continued playing baseball. She went to work with former minor league player Bill Allington on his All-American All-Stars team, traveling 10,000 miles all over the country, playing 100 games.
“Bill was the best manager,” she said. “He really knew and taught me about baseball. A lot of those managers would talk to you about the sport, but Bill really took the time to be a teacher, which I always appreciated.”
During her time on Allington’s team, Ozburn met her future husband, Clement Ozburn, after they competed against each other. She joked that she always said he was the winner of the game, because he got her as the prize.
The couple married in 1958 and had two children. Ozburn earned three college degrees, as well.
But her love of sports has never dwindled. She loves baseball movies, noting her favorites are “The Natural,” “Field of Dreams” and “The Rookie.” She follows some of her favorite teams, including the Milwaukee Brewers and the U.S. women’s soccer players. She even plays “granny basketball.”
Ozburn was one of the many women inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in the late 1980s, which ended up leading to her consulting for “A League of Their Own.” She got the chance to meet and talk with Marshall, a number of people behind the scenes of the film and even Madonna and Rosie O’Donnell.
She still gets letters from all over the world about “A League of Their Own” and her time in the All-American Girls league, which are some of her happiest memories.
“Baseball changed my life,” she said. “I’m still walking and driving. Sure, the movie has to put some ‘Hollywood things’ in it, like when Tom Hanks uses the restroom in front of the girls. That would never have happened to us. I also never sneaked out to go to clubs, but I’m sure some other girls did. But we definitely had to wear those dresses for our uniforms.”
And as much as she loves her time in the league and baseball now, she said she doesn’t wear dresses or skirts anymore.