Two decades later, Taylor woman remembered for World Series debut

Jennifer Hall still remembers the goose bumps.

It was August 1987 and Hall was a member of the Taylor Northwest Little League team that was competing in the Junior League World Series right in her hometown.

As Hall trotted in to play outfield, she heard Jim Sicotte announce: “Ladies and gentlemen, you are witnessing history in the making. We have a substitution in leftfield for Michigan. Jennifer Hall will be playing leftfield, making her the first girl to ever play in the Junior League World Series.”

“I got goose bumps,” Hall said last week. “I think that’s when it really hit me that this was indeed a big deal.  I was a little nervous and, of course, the very first batter hit the ball to leftfield and I had to make a shoestring catch – and I think that silenced my critics and also calmed my nerves.”

Last week, Hall was honored as the manager of the state championship softball team from Taylor that competed in the Senior League Central region tournament. On August 15, Hall, the coaches and players received certificates from Mayor Cameron Priebe and other elected officials during the Taylor City Council meeting. An hour later, the team was honored on World Series Field at Heritage Park during the 26th annual Junior League World Series.

The announcer didn’t let the opportunity slip by to tell the crowd that Hall had become a pioneer in the series 19 years earlier.

In the 1980s, only 13-year-olds were part of the Junior Division of Little League baseball. From 1985 to 1987, the Michigan state champion received an automatic berth in the World Series.

In 1987, Hall and her teammates on the Taylor Northwest all-stars won the state championship. It didn’t take long for the media to focus on the fact that she was the first girl to play in the international tournament.

“The newspapers and television stations were already starting on the fact that I was going to be the first girl ever to play in the Junior League World Series,” she said. “I was a little surprised by all of the attention I was getting. I guess it was because I had played baseball all my life and I didn’t really think of it as being that big of a deal.”

Hall said her teammates included “great players like Jason Gielow, Jeff Johnson, Gary Adams, Vernon Wyeth, Pat Davis and Marc Wisniewski, just to name a few, so getting as much attention as I was getting was a little weird at times.”

She remembers a television news crew videotaping her warming up as a pitcher, calling it “nerve racking” and “exciting at the same time.”

“It sometimes seemed like a dream just being at the ballpark,” Hall said. “I can remember sitting at a picnic table behind the press box with a line of kids and adults from Puerto Rico and Mexico just waiting their turn for a picture and autograph from me. I guess it was unusual for them to see a female baseball player. I couldn’t understand a lot of them, but I really enjoyed the opportunity to meet all of them. I guess you could say that I got my 10 minutes of fame and it’s something I will always remember and hold dear to my heart.”

In 1987, the World Series had a two-loss knockout format. Team Michigan was eliminated in two straight games that year, losing 11-3 to Central region champion Madison, Wisconsin, and 7-0 to the Mexican national champions from Hermosillo, Sonora.

After playing leftfield against Wisconsin, Hall remembers going in as a relief pitcher.

“I don’t remember if the game was on television or on the radio, but my father (Coach Lanny Hall) was told that (former Detroit Tiger) Milt Wilcox made the comment that he hoped that our coaches weren’t just putting me on the mound for a show,” she said. “After I started warming up, Mr. Wilcox decided my form was better than the other guys.

“I can’t begin to tell you what it was like to step on that rubber and pitch to my first batter, but I know it was an extraordinary feeling that I’ll never forget.”

Hall’s team also played a consolation game against the USA South champs from Bristol, Tennessee. Hall was the starting pitcher.

“I remember the players from Tennessee laughing about a girl pitching against them and I’m glad to say the laughing stopped when I shut down their big hitters the whole game,” Hall said. “Unfortunately, they had time limits on the consolation games back then and, although we had the lead when the time limit expired, the inning wasn’t complete and we had to revert back to the last complete inning and we needed up with the loss.”

After the game, Tennessee players and fans told Hall was a very tough pitcher and that she did a great job. Team Manager Mike Hufford told newspapers that her best pitch was a split-finger fastball, adding that when she threw strikes, she either strikes out the batter or forces him to hit a ground ball, allowing the fielders to make plays.

“The thing that I remember the most about the World Series is the way our coaches believed in us and never let us give up on ourselves, even when were about the be eliminated from tournament play,” Hall said. “In my opinion, Mike Hufford and Lanny Hall were two of the greatest coaches to ever coach at the Taylor Northwest Little League. They always encouraged us to work hard and give everything we had to the game when we were on the field. Their leadership is why we had the amazing opportunity to play in the Junior League World Series.”

Hall said she remembers returning to the World Series in later years and being approached to sign autographs.

“I will always remember the feeling I had when I played my first World Series game and I will always treasurer the friendships that I made with people from all over the world,” she said. “My experiences during my Little League days are what created my love for baseball and softball. My coaches and parents are the reason I decided to become a softball coach and the kids are the reason I’ve done it for 14 years.”