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Former St. Paul Saint Ila Borders Looks Back, Pays Forward

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) -- On a baseball field, anything feels possible.

Nobody knows that better than Ila Borders. It's a message she pays forward as she lead her all-girls clinic Saturday morning at the home of the Saints.

"We just want to get girls out here to show that girls can play baseball," Borders said. "And we want them to have a fun experience."

Twenty years ago this week, Borders took it upon herself to show that firsthand.

Borders broke baseball's gender barrier when she made her debut for the Saints in 1997 -- pitching seven games before being traded.

"There were some tough things that I went through, but that's kind of normal if you're the first person doing that," Borders said. "But the biggest thing is, the fans were great, my teammates were great. And I'll never forget that experience with everybody just being so supportive."

The Saints have always been known for their gimmicks and promotions. But Borders says she never felt like one.

Ila Borders
(credit: CBS)

"I didn't think somebody could say I was out here to sell tickets," Borders said. "Because when I first came here, (owner) Mike Veeck greeted me in the parking lot, and every seat was already sold out for two years."

But she still remembers the buzz that followed her.

"I was on Jay Leno, Good Morning (America), I was over in Japan," she said. "It was kind of crazy."

Twenty years later, she's now a firefighter and paramedic in Oregon, but still keeps her connection to baseball through her clinics.

Hoping that perhaps one of these girls here will pick up where she left off.

"You're gonna get a lot of no's, but it just takes that one yes," Borders said. "Hopefully maybe they can get inspired that, when somebody says, 'It hasn't been done, so you can't do it,' you can be like, 'It hasn't been done, but I'm going to do it.'"

The Saints will honor Borders at their game Saturday night, complete with a bobblehead giveaway for the first 1,500 fans.

Borders has just released a memoir, titled "Making My Pitch." She will sign copies of the book at the game Saturday night.

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