Last year the International Women’s Baseball Center created the Hustle Award in honor and remembrance of beloved Rockford Peaches player and IWBC co-founder, Shirley “Hustle” Burkovich, which celebrates an individual who demonstrates outstanding commitment, leadership, and dedication to the empowerment of women in all aspects of baseball and life. This year we invited nominations again to uplift other people working in the world of women’s baseball to celebrate the lifetime achievements of others that have that same Hustle energy.

Like many girls of her generation, Shirley began playing baseball with her brother and the neighborhood boys. In 1948, her brother convinced her to try out for the AAGPBL and, at just 16 years old, Shirley joined the AAGPBL and played from 1949-1951. After retirement Shirley never stopped serving as an advocate for women and girls in baseball, working with the AAGPBL Players’ Association and being an IWBC founder. Whether she was advocating for girls and women in baseball, acting as a mentor, mediator, or defending and supporting her friends, Shirley was simply good. She was honest, kind, and always true to her principles. There was no greater friend.

When nominations closed at the end of December 2023, we were delighted to have eight nominees and decided to restructure to a finalist announcement this year. Those finalists were announced in January 2024 as Melissa Ludtke and Oz Sailors.


Melissa Ludtke

Melissa is known by most in the baseball world as the woman who took MLB to court. Her advocacy for women sports writers has been felt throughout the decades as both a writer and an advocate. She is even getting ready to release a book about these struggles in Locker Room Talk set to come out in August of this year. From her work as a writer in the 1970s to the talks and advocacy she continues to provide today, Melissa truly has Shirley’s hustle energy.


Oz Sailors

Oz Sailors has spent her life as a coach, player, and advocate both in the United States and abroad. She has heralded many firsts while centering the importance of belonging in the game. Beyond her current work as a coach, Oz has worked in player development and overall advocacy in both programs and academies globally. While she made a splash in her playing career as the first woman to play in an NCAA Division I baseball game, she has spent recent years coaching high school baseball in California and working with Baseball for All. Her hustle energy has packed a lifetime of work into just a few decades of life.


This year we were honored to highlight the work of both of these women, and reward the 2024 Hustle Award to Oz Sailors. Oz graciously received the award at our Founders Day celebration in February and followed up with a thank you announcement shortly later. You can read that announcement here.