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Ila Borders pitches in minor league game

On this day in 1997, Ila Borders becomes the first woman to pitch in a minor league baseball game, when she enters a game in relief for the St. Paul Saints of the Northern League. Mike Veeck, son of famous baseball impresario and promoter Bill Veeck, owned the Saints, and signed Borders to garner publicity for his team and the Northern League, an independent minor league not affiliated with Major League Baseball. Borders, though, was more than an attraction: She could throw strikes, and she went on to pitch in the Northern League for three years.

Ila Borders was born on February 18, 1975, in La Marida, California. A left-hander, she was five feet eight inches tall and 140 pounds when she began pitching for Southern California College in Costa Mesa, California. At 19, she became the first woman to throw a complete game in men’s college baseball. Even then, her stated goal was to be the first woman to pitch in the major leagues.

Although Borders threw only between 70 and 79 mph at her fastest, she used an assortment of off-speed pitches and breaking balls to compensate for her lack of speed. In her first minor league outing, Borders had a bad day. She hit the first batter, balked while pitching to the second batter, forcing in a run, and then committed an error after inducing that batter to hit the ball back to her. After the third batter she faced hit a double, she was pulled. The next day, she pitched again, striking out the side this time in her one inning of work.

Borders was then acquired mid-season by the Duluth Dukes. She made 15 appearances with the team, with no wins and no losses. The Duluth squad she joined had been in last place, but ended up making the playoffs and winning the Northern League championship in 1997; Borders contributed a scoreless inning in a tight playoff game.

Borders had no trouble with her own teammates accepting her onto the team, but one opposing manager that year threatened to forfeit if his team had to face her. However, the Fargo manager did not follow through on his promise, and Borders pitched six shutout innings that day, leaving the game with a 2-0 lead.

In 1998, Borders became the first woman to get a win in a professional game. She won two more games the following year. Despite these successes, she retired after the 2000 season, never having been invited to try out for a major league franchise or one of their minor league affiliates.

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