How a teen star helped a 92-year-old baseball legend get her one wish to ‘play again’

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You don’t often get the chance to watch 75 years melt away. But there they are, Mildred Meacham (“Meach,” they called her in her playing days) and Alex Fulmer (everyone calls her “Lulu”) and they are surrounded by Christmas trees and multi-colored lights and the bustle before dinner time at the Brookdale Cotswold Senior Living Center in Charlotte, N.C.

“What did you like better,” Lulu is asking, “baseball or softball?”

“Baseball,” Meach says quietly. “In softball, the ball goes slower … What do you like better?”

“Baseball,” Lulu says. “It’s what I know.”

Meach is 92. Lulu is 17. That’s 75 years of life between them and yet the stuff that connects them beats time. Meacham played ball in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) just after World War II ended. Fulmer is the youngest player on Team USA, and five years ago, she became the first girl to start a Little League Southeast Regional clinching game.

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They are together because of a wish. A couple of years ago, Lynn Schlierf, the program coordinator at Brookdale Cotswold, met Meacham for the first time. They talked baseball. Meach played for the Fort Wayne Daisies and Racine Belles in 1947 and for the Springfield Sallies in 1948. She was a first baseman with speed.

“What did you love about baseball?” Schlierf asked.

“I loved every blade of grass,” Meacham told her. “Every speck of dirt. The crowd. The sound. I even loved the smell of baseball.”

And, with that, Schlierf knew that she needed to give Meach one more day of baseball. That was the wish.

(Photo courtesy of Wish of a Lifetime.)
(Photo courtesy of Wish of a Lifetime.)

So Schlierf and Brookdale director of business development Chanel Jackson wrote to Wish of a Lifetime, founded by former NFL receiver and Olympic skier Jeremy Bloom. This is some organization. Through the years, they have brought a World War II veteran back to Normandy, they took a 100-year-old to the ocean for the first time and they granted the wish of a woman who had grown up in the segregated South and wanted only to eat in a train dining car. They threw a fashion show for a former fashion writer. They allowed a father to walk his daughter down the aisle—36 years after he had missed her wedding for financial reasons. They have granted more than 1,600 wishes—more than 200 per year.

“No,” Wish of a Lifetime wish manager Brittany Polson says, “we’ve never had a wish quite like Meach’s wish.”

Everyone wanted to make the wish come true, of course. But this one wasn’t so easy. How do you give a 92-year-old woman another day of baseball? Different ideas were discussed; it took eight months to come up with the right one. And then, in the end, this was the idea: To bring a young woman baseball player to visit, to present Meach with various gifts (a bat, a jersey, plaques) and, most of all, to talk baseball.

Of course, no one knew exactly how it would go. Meacham is the second-oldest living player from the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) and, as you might imagine, she has her good days and her not-so-good ones. And Fulmer is a high school senior who had never done anything like this before.

But then the two began to talk, and all that melted away. Meach and Lulu had fallen in love with baseball the same way, by playing ball with their brothers. They talk about how they found that they had made the team: An AAGPBL scout had come to Meach’s house to recruit her; an email landed in Lulu’s mailbox inviting her to try out for Team USA in Texas.

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“I just begged my mother to let me go,” Meach says.

“Alex just looked at me,” Fulmer’s mother Kelley says, “and I thought, ‘I guess we’re going to Texas.'”

More than anything, though, they talk about that feeling of being on the baseball field.

“I just loved it,” Meacham says. “I just loved being out there with all the girls.”

“When I’m playing baseball,” Fulmer says, “everything else goes away.”

“Don’t take anything for granted,” Meacham says. “It goes by so fast.”

(Photo courtesy of Wish of a Lifetime.)
(Photo courtesy of Wish of a Lifetime.)

Of course, the things most people know about the AAGPBL comes from the movie “A League of Their Own.” That was all Fulmer knew before she arrived. She had come with this idea of honoring a player who had paved the way, someone who had made her own path easier.

But here’s the funny part: Fulmer soon realizes that they have fought the same battle. Yes, certainly it was harder in some ways for a woman to play baseball in 1947, but Fulmer says that just two weeks ago, she took the mound for a game and had boys yell all the same things that boys have been yelling at girl baseball players since, more or less, the beginning.

“You don’t let anyone tell you that there’s something you can’t do,” Meach tells her.

“No ma’am,” Lulu says. She did not. She struck out six and shut ’em all up.

“That a girl,” Meach says.

Mildred Meacham’s wish was granted by the partnership between Brookdale Senior Living and Wish of a Lifetime.

Joe Posnanski is a No. 1 New York Times best-selling author, an Emmy Award-winning writer and has been awarded National Sportswriter of the Year. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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