Obituary: Marilyn Jenkins (1934-2020)

RIP to Marilyn “Jenks” Jenkins, who started as a batgirl for the Grand Rapids Chicks of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League and ended up as the team’s catcher for three seasons. She died on February 7 at the age of 85. Jenkins played for the Chicks from 1952-1954.

Source: AAGPBL

(Since there was relatively little press coverage given to the AAGPBL at the time it existed, much of this information comes from the AAGPBL website and a 2008 interview with Marilyn as part of the Grand Valley State oral history project. Thank goodness for organizations that have worked so hard to preserve this important part of baseball history.)

Marilyn Jenkins was born in Grand Rapids, Mich., on Sept. 18, 1934. She was introduced to baseball when her father, Carl, a meat salesman and butcher, took her to watch a local Negro Leagues team. When he found out that the AAGPBL was going to have a team in Grand Rapids in 1945 — not far from their house — he suggested that his daughter start working for the team. Jenkins’ first duties with the Chicks included picking up rocks on the infield and cleaning under the bleachers, but soon she became the team’s batgirl. She was 11 years old at the time.

“These women, I was just in awe and thunderstruck by them. A bunch of wonderful women, and I remember they were nice to me too, every one of them was,” she said.

Carl Jenkins came to games occasionally, to check up on his daughter. He died in 1947 from leukemia and never got to watch her as a player.

Jenkins’ duties grew to include throwing and catching batting practice. When she graduated from high school, she was given the chance to stay with the Chicks — as one of the players. She spent three seasons with the Chicks as a catcher and occasional outfielder, starting in 1952. Jenkins managed 4 hits in 30 at-bats in 19 games during her first season. In 1953 and 1954, she played more regularly and hit .207 and .182, respectively.

In her interview with Grand Valley State, she recalled her fondest memory, which must have happened in 1954: “…we converted to a regulation baseball. Now I loved that because my hands were small and I could throw it better and everything. I think my first time at bat, if I remember correctly, with a regulation baseball; I hit one out of the park. Oh man, what a thrill, and I don’t remember if it was South Bend or Kalamazoo — it was one of those two cities. That was a thrill.”

After the AAGPBL ended in 1954, Jenkins went to x-ray school and worked at Butterworth Hospital as a radiology technologist until 1972. She also worked at a law firm and was the long-time owner/operator of MM Jenkins Estate Services. In 2016, her biography was included in a book entitled Great Girls in Michigan History, by Patricia Majher, which focused on amazing accomplishments by Michigan women before they turned 20. Jenkins is included with the likes of Betty Ford, Diana Ross and Serena Williams.

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