When Jean "Cy" Cione died suddenly last week at 82, so did a piece of baseball history.
But the woman, who pitched three no-hitters in her 10-year career with the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, was more than a famed baseball player to those who knew her.
"She had a sparkle in her eye every time I saw her," the Rev. Roxanne Klingensmith, her friend and pastor, said. "She was a favorite person of mine and more fun than a barrel full of monkeys."
"She was a lot fun to be with," agreed Cione's partner Ginny Hunt. "If you didn't ever experience watching a baseball game with her, you really missed something. It was a treat to watch a game with her. She analyzed every play."
And it's no wonder.
Cione's own career began in 1945 when she joined the Rockford Peaches, upon whom the 1992 film "A League of Their Own" was based. While she left the Peaches for the Peoria Red Wings and spent most of her career with the Kenosha Comets, she returned to Rockford and retired as a Peach in 1954, according to her autobiography on AAGPBL's website.
Inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame and the Eastern Michigan University Athletic Hall of Fame, Cione also served as vice president of the AAGPBL Players Association.
She co-wrote and co-hosted "Dirt on Their Skirts: The Story of Women in Baseball," a 90-minute electronic "field trip" available for school children through the National Baseball Hall of Fame. She was also interviewed for "Diamond Dreams," a film that runs as a continuous loop in the hall of fame's exhibit on women in baseball.
"We were indeed saddened to learn today about Jean's death," Tim Wiles, the hall of fame's director of research wrote in an e-mail. "She was a wonderful colleague and cared a great deal about baseball."
Born in Rockford, Ill., in 1928, Cione began playing professional baseball "as a young 17-year-old junior in high school," she wrote for the AAGPBL website. "I was a young girl who could run, hit and throw."
In between seasons, the left-handed pitcher graduated from high school and went on to study at Eastern Michigan University, University of Illinois and University of Michigan.
She returned to EMU where she taught sports medicine for 29 years and, as the school's first women's athletic director, was instrumental in attaining gender equity in the sports programs there.
She had a lasting and positive impact on her students, who describe her as having a firm yet affirming personality.
One former high school student who took synchronized swimming with Cione in Rockford in the 1960s said on Cione's obituary guest book that her teacher still influences her today.
"I was NOT athletic, but her determination, humor and expertise made a lasting impression on me and I still talk about her frequently," Cathy Horrall Helgeland wrote.
She was "demanding of herself and demanded a lot from everybody else," Hunter said. But she wouldn't just leave someone "out there. She'd help you get there."
Cione retired to Bozeman in 1992.
The Rev. Clark Sherman met Cione when he came here in 1997 to work at St. James Episcopal Church, where she was a member of the congregation.
"She was a wonderful, wonderful educator and a strong proponent of women's sports," he said. "I can't overstate her commitment to women's athletics."
In addition to her three no-hitters, Cione "was responsible for an unassisted triple play," Sherman said. To put that into perspective, there have only been 15 unassisted triple plays in Major League Baseball since 1909.
But despite her feats, Cione was not one to brag.
"She was really very humble," Sherman said. "She was proud of what she'd done but she downplayed her accomplishments and would often focus on the accomplishments of the league and the other players."
Though she cites the three no-hitters in her AAGPBL biography, she seemed happier with the memory of her "unusual tag play put-out at third base" that secured her team's win and preserved a flagging pitcher's place on the mound for another season.
But to those who knew her best, she was more than just a notable baseball player, she was a woman who "lived life to the fullest," Sherman said.
"There's no question about it," he said. "She infused life into everyone that she came into contact with."
Cione, herself, told a Chronicle reporter in 2003 that she did enjoy her life.
"I had fun," she said, "with everything I could squeeze in."