Born: October 22, 1924
Ernestine Petras was born October 22, 1924 in Haskell. After spending her early years in the northwest corner of the state, “Teeny” and her family moved to Irvington. There she became a top-notch softball player, using her speed, quickness and strong arm to establish herself as a standout shortstop. Teeny was a slap hitter who tried to find open spaces, or hammer the ball into the ground and beat the throw to first. Though she rarely batted over .200, she was a fine fielder and lightning-fast runner.
In 1943, Teeny spotted an ad in the Star-Ledger for a tryout in Newark for the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. There she met former major leaguer Max Carey. Carey—a formidable base runner in his playing days—would later tutor Teeny in the art of base-stealing. Out of more than 100 young women at the tryout, Carey selected Teeny and Kay Blumetta. That got Teeny into the mix for the next round of tryouts in Chicago several months later. She made the final cut and was assigned to the Milwaukee Chicks for the 1944 season.
Teeny played a utility role for the Chicks in 1944, and helped them win the second-half of the season. The Chicks played the first-half winner, the Kenosha Comets, for the AAGPBL title in the Scholarship Series. With Carey at the helm, the Chicks ran wild, stealing 39 bases in the seven-game series, and defeated Kenosha for the championship. Teeny did not see action in any of the games.
That would change in 1945, as Teeny replaced starter Merle Keagle, who left the club to get married. The Chicks moved to Grand Rapids that season, and Teeny would become one the team’s signature stars over the next four seasons. She led the league in fielding each year from 1945 to 1947, and was a key member of Grand Rapids’ 1947 championship team. In the championship series against the Racine Belles, Teeny had two doubles and a homer, and stole 6 bases. Teeny and second baseman Alma Ziegler made up the league’s slickest keystone combination during this time.
Early in the 1948 season, the AAGPBL informed Teeny that she would be transferred to the new franchise in Chicago. The Colleens needed name players to draw fans. A huge crowd attended her “farewell” game. Teeny went on to steal a career-high 86 bases that year.
Teeny spent the next three years with the Kenosha Comets. Near the end of the 1951 season, Teeny was named manager of the Comets in place of Johnny Gottselig. Gottselig’s winter job was playing for the NHL Chicago Black Hawks. He held the distinction of being pro hockey’s first Russian-born star.
The AAGPBL played its final season in 1952. Teeny was a member of the Battle Creek Belles and had one of her best years at the plate. She batted .233, stole 42 bases and rapped out 14 doubles. She played third base most of the year, and led the league in fielding at that position. In nine pro seasons, Teeny stole 420 bases in 834 games.
Teeny moved back to New Jersey and continued to play softball competitively for many years. She made her home in Barnegat, and enjoyed renewed acclaim after A League of Their Own premiered. A popular speaker, she has participated in panels on women in sports, and has been honored at ballparks in Cooperstown Milwaukee and Trenton.