Obituary: Helene Machado Van Sant (1926-2019)

R.I.P. to Helene “Chow” Machado Van Sant, a hard-hitting outfielder who played two seasons in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. She died on February 13 at the age of 92, according to the AAGPBL’s official Twitter account. She played for the Peoria Redwings (1946) and Fort Wayne Daisies (1947).

Helene Machado was born on April 17, 1926. She grew up in California with her four brothers, all of whom stoof over 6 feet tall. Van Sant, at 5’11”, was just shy of the mark. Her father was a former boxer, so all five children learned to fight — and also play softball. Porfirio Machado managed a softball team that included all five of his children and some cousins. She kept playing softball until she was invited to play in the AAGPBL when she was 17. Her father didn’t allow her to play until she was 21, and she joined the league in 1946 for training in Havana, Cuba.

Van Sant picked up the nickname “Chow” in Havana, when she was kidded by the other ballplayers for eating her entire steak as well as the leftovers of her teammates. “But I was really feeding a mama dog and her litter,” she explained in the San Bernardino County Sun years later. “I had to stop it, though, because the people didn’t have enough to eat and resented me feeding steak to dogs.”

Source: San Bernardino County Sun, October 26, 1988.

Van Sant, according to her AAGPBL bio, hit .183 in 73 games for the Redwings and was traded to the Daisies in 1947. She hit .223 in 90 games there. A 1988 profile on her notes a .407 batting average in ’46, so it’s difficult to say what her actual totals are. The game recaps I found report her getting hits more often than not, and she did prevent a no-hitter by Phyllis Koehn on July 24, 1947. Van Sant’s single in the second inning was the only hit Fort Wayne managed in a 2-0 loss to the South Bend Blue Sox.

Van Sant left the league after 1948 for a couple of reasons. One, her father had his foot amputated after it was stepped on by a horse, so she wanted to go back and help at home. She was also miffed about her $75-a-week salary, which was low compared to some of the other players. She played softball and baseball until a knee surgery in 1950 officially ended her career.

After baseball, she obtained a real estate license and raised her family, largely as a single parent. Her husband George died of a heart attack in 1969. In 1970, she got an Associate of Arts degree from San Bernardino Valley College and later a degree in social science at Cal State San Bernardino. She was an eligibility worker for the San Bernardino County Department of Social Services in Fontana, the County Sun reported back in 1988. At the time, she lived on a ranch in Devore with eight Arabian horses and stayed active in sports.

Van Sant remained an advocate for women’s sports and tried to petition the mayor of San Bernardino to start a women’s baseball team. She hoped for the best for players like Ila Borders and the Colorado Silver Bullets as they tried to find their places in organized baseball.

“I’d like to see more women get involved. Women can be good athletes,” she told the County Sun in 1994. “I do hope that women will be given the chance to be in a league.”

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