NEW YORK (AP) — Anika Orrock was all warmed up for her big pitch. On the mound at Yankee Stadium, tossing out the ceremonial first ball.
On Tuesday night, though, the baseball illustrator and cartoonist will be far from the Bronx. Instead of starting off the Pirates-Yankees game, she’ll be back in Nashville, Tennessee, pondering her fate.
No way to tour the country, promoting and celebrating the publication of her first book, based on the women pros popularized by the movie “A League of Their Own.”
Now with the majors and much of the country shut down by the coronavirus pandemic, she spends her days pacing around a small cul-de-sac at home, managing virtual promotions and brainstorming ways to replace lost opportunities and income.
“The moment this happened, and I realized that a book launch was going to be a book flop, it was a struggle,” she said, wondering, “What in the world am I going to do?”
Through what Orrock calls “the magic of the internet,” she connected with Brooklyn baseball artist Graig Kreindler, who experienced a similar letdown. His 230 paintings were to be a major part of an exhibit at the Negro League Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri — instead, the shrine was forced to close four weeks into the planned four-month run.
While commiserating about their virus-related setbacks, Orrock and Kreindler discovered they both celebrated their 40th birthdays on April 17. To mark the occasion, the social-media conscious pair created a “Baseball Buddy Birthday” video featuring a 3-minute card “draw-off” for YouTube.
“Anika is experiencing a different set of challenges right now. It’s sad, because her book is so beautiful and she’s such an awesome person,” Kreindler said.
“Honestly, I crave friendship from another artist because I don’t have a lot of friends who do what I do. It’s not that it’s lonely, but I don’t have many people to talk to,” he said.”
Orrock’s newly released book, “The Incredible Women of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League,” was the culmination of exhaustive research, interviews and writing about players in the 1940s and ’50s. The Yankee Stadium visit was among a dozen or so publicity events connected to the publication that got canceled.
“I spent three-plus years on this book and I’m way ahead on the whole social isolation thing,” she said.
Kreindler also spent three years leading up to the painting exhibit.
“Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson — most baseball fans know those names. But I got to learn about so many players in those leagues who had interesting stories behind them, including the majority who never got to play because of the color of their skin,” he said.
Orrock grew up in the San Francisco area, where her grandfather was a longtime, popular newspaper columnist and a baseball fan. While a student San Jose State, she went to Giants games and drew hundreds of scenes from the games.
After three seasons, she compiled them into a school project. She then realized they all looked the same because there were no women in her drawings.
It dawned on her: “I’m a woman and I love baseball … There have to be great stories of women in baseball.”
Orrock attended a few reunions of the women who played in the long-ago league that began during World War II and, helped by a lot of persistence, her book project began to take off.
Kreindler’s biggest challenge since the shutdown has been finding enough time to paint while sharing child-care duties with his wife, a writer, to care for and entertain their 2- and 4-year-old children.
In the past, Kreindler figures he researched and painted about eight hours daily. Now he’s down to just an hour-and-a-half.
“I’m way behind,” he said.
For Orrock, she’s encouraged by those she wrote about.
“It occurred to me to look to the women in my own story to gain inspiration. They stepped up to the plate during the war,” she said. “They brought their best when it was needed most. Their story is insightful and just as relevant today.”
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