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Shakeia Taylor: Home team may have lost, but record-setting Chicago Red Stars game at Wrigley Field was a win for women’s sports

CHICAGO — On July 1, 1943, Wrigley Field hosted a large Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) rally.

The event included a doubleheader with a WAAC softball game at 6 p.m. between teams from Fort Sheridan and Camp Grant near Rockford, Ill., followed by an all-star baseball game at 8:30 p.m. with players from the four original All-American Girls Professional Baseball League teams (the Racine Belles, Kenosha Comets, South Bend Blue Sox and Rockford Peaches).

To help light the field for the later game, three banks of temporary lights were installed on poles situated behind home plate, first base and third base.

Yes, in the first night game held at the North Side ballpark, it was women who took the field. They would play a second night game there the following year.

More than 80 years later, two professional women’s teams made history again.

Neither rain nor wind nor rapidly dropping temperatures could keep fans away from Wrigley Field on Saturday evening to see the Chicago Red Stars play Bay FC in a National Women’s Soccer League game. The 35,038 fans in attendance broke the league record of 34,130 set last October at Seattle’s Lumen Field for Megan Rapinoe’s final regular-season match.

Gallagher Way, the enclosed grassy area outside of Wrigley, was a festive scene. Families moved about excitedly while a DJ played tunes.

As I looked around, every other person was wearing a shirt or hoodie that read, “Everyone watches women’s sports” — a mantra and a call to action. The momentum of women’s sports is growing across leagues as college and professional sports see tremendous growth in viewership, attendance and interest.

Cheryl and Clair Rollman-Tinajero, along with their kid Rowan, traveled from Austin, Texas, to be part of the moment.

The Rollman-Tinajeros’ love of women’s sports has taken them to San Jose, Calif., for Bay FC’s home opener, to Kansas City, Mo., for the opening of the KC Current’s CPKC Stadium and to Dublin to watch the Irish women’s national team play Sweden.

“Anytime we can be part of making history for women’s sports, we’re excited,” Cheryl said. “We’re excited every day that we get to wake up and support women in any industry, but to be part of something historic, we are absolutely excited.

“I really am going to cry. When you empower women, you change the world. There is no world that we know of without women. And we have had a really tough time for the last, oh, a couple centuries, getting the boot off of our necks. Anytime that the world can see how much women matter, it’s an important event. Anytime that we can personally contribute to empowering women, we contribute to changing the world and that is a huge thing.”

Decked out in denim vests covered in NWSL and soccer patches from their shop, Odd Colored Sheep, the Rollman-Tinajeros were all smiles as they handed out stickers and patches to other supporters and waited in line for their turn at the photo booth to commemorate the historic occasion.

“Part of what drew us to soccer and women’s soccer is the community is such a great, supportive group,” Clair said. “We travel around rooting for the home team. We don’t have a home team but would like NWSL to come to (Austin). Everywhere we go, though, everyone is just so open and welcoming to us, and that’s the coolest part.”

Though parts of the baseball field were still obvious along the first-base line, Wrigley Field had been transformed. The famous scoreboard displayed NWSL scores, and the flags on the outfield poles were those of the league’s teams. Shops throughout the ballpark were selling Red Stars apparel made for the once-in-a-lifetime game. No detail was spared.

When players from both teams took the field, they were met with raucous applause. Fans were a little damp and cold, but their enthusiasm was unaffected. Behind the Cubs dugout, Red Stars supporters held flags, sang and beat drums while hardly ever sitting down.

“Oh, when the Stars go marching in! Oh, when the Stars go marching in! Oh, lord, I want to be in that number, when the Stars go marching in!” they sang.

Defender Kiki Pickett scored in the 25th minute for Bay FC, with her shot from outside the box finding the bottom right corner of the net, and Joelle Anderson scored what became the deciding goal in the 79th minute as Bay FC earned a 2-1 victory.

Twenty-five years after her father, Denny Hocking, hit a home run at Wrigley Field as a member of the Minnesota Twins, Red Stars forward Penelope Hocking scored in the third minute of extra time. Fireworks went off behind the ballpark. Though the game had been decided, the crowd erupted. The home team lost, but the game was a victory for the NWSL, women’s soccer and women’s sports in general.

“We taught (our kids) to be the ripple,” Cheryl Rollman-Tinajero said of the importance of showing up to support women’s sports. “You never know the impact you’re going to make when you throw a stone. We are the stones. We don’t know what the ripple is going to do when it hits the shore.”

As the crowd took to the streets after the game, fans sang, danced and took photos. A few told me they hope the Red Stars return to Chicago from suburban Bridgeview for good soon so they could enjoy more moments like that. For many in attendance, it was more than a game.

“Seeing women take up space that they absolutely deserve to show off and show how incredibly talented they are, it’s fantastic,” Rowan Rollman-Tinajero said. “I’m a little bit biased. I love (Red Stars goalkeeper) Alyssa Naeher with my entire being. She’s just such a badass.

“I don’t want to play soccer but it makes me feel like I could do anything. Seeing women coming into the spotlight now makes me feel like I can take up space and be important.”

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