Thursday, April 26, 2012

Happy Birthday, Fenway

Last Friday, I was very fortunate enough to be at Fenway Park for their 100th Birthday celebration.
At first, I was interested in the game, the Yankees coming to Fenway for the first time in 2012 season.
I was more concerned with seeing our current team battle in a symbolic representation of our nearly 100 year rivalry.

I was not at all concerned with the pre-game ceremonies. As a historian, I was cynically assuming that it would be a massive, commercialized pomp and circumstance over discounted beer and historical ripoff gag gifts. Luckily, for me, I was proven wrong. Dead wrong.

The pre-game ceremony began very quietly with the Yankees leaving the field following batting practice. The Red Sox grounds crew disassembled the batting cages and the field was cleared. Then after a very brief introduction by the public announcement system, silence fell over the field. 

Using the center field garage door as the stand-in for Ray Kinsella's Iowa corn fields, Red Sox alumni from bygone years stepped forward to cheering fans and took their position on the field. The main video screen in center field showed a live feed of the player stepping into center field while another screen displayed their name, picture and years of wearing a Red Sox uniform.

Of the dozens of players introduced, the most poignant of all was first baseman Bill Buckner.

Fig. 1: Bill Buckner takes the field at Fenway Park.
Fig. 2: Red Sox Alumni walking back into the symbolic corn fields of Fenway Park.

The legacy of Bill Buckner needs no explanation here, but in a gesture of gratitude, he was the first first baseman introduced and was able to walk his way to first base before any other player was introduced. This was one of the first players to receive a standing ovation and it was clearly an emotional experience for both Buckner and the fans. Being twenty-six years removed from his infamous play, the demons appeared to have been kept at bay. For the Red Sox have won the World Series in 2004 and 2007, therefore lifting any sort of "blame" on Buckner. He has made his peace with the fans and the media since those many years ago. The romance of baseball is too hard to eliminate and forgive me while I indulge for only a short while.

Watching Bill Buckner emerge from the symbolic corn fields of Fenway Park and take his position at first base reminded me of Terence Mann's (played by James Earl Jones) speech in Field of Dreams, 

"The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again."

If Buckner's career being immortalized by one groundball is a tragedy, then I propose that the ultimate redemption came when he could take the field at Fenway Park. Not to throw out a first pitch or hold a championship banner but to walk to first base and be engulfed in applause. 

As each player walked onto the field, some more famous and popular than others, some younger, older, able-bodied and wheelchair / walker accompanied, they all shared that bond of being part of 100 years of history. Fenway Park was the ultimate time capsule yesterday during this pre-game ceremony. As fans, we were on hand to see our ghosts of the past take the field. We of course recalled those who were not able to be in attendance, but those who were became immortalized. It was surely no accident that Fenway Park decided to choreograph this ceremony with homage to Field of Dreams. For Fenway has remained constant throughout the years. The field is part of our past, it reminds us of all that once was good and it could be again.

If there were any somber moments during the ceremony they may be found in the complete silence that took over fans. Save for the cheering and applause for each player, there was no talking. The only words heard were "Wow", "My gosh", "I can't believe it." Some of the men sitting near me were fighting back tears of memory and I can honestly say that more than once I could hear the quiet, broken-voiced whispers of, "I wish my father were here."

If baseball is that ultimate American pastime, that ultimate connection between yesterday and today, and that ultimate connection between families, friends and neighbors, then Friday, April 2oth was its ultimate day.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Ashby Free Public Library

On Saturday, I made a short trip to the Ashby Free Public Library in Ashby, Mass.
This is the first of my many "Francis Library Field Trips" that I hope to take this summer.

The Ashby Free Public Library is the closest standing library to my home and I thought it would be the easiest to travel to and document.
The reasons to visit these Francis libraries are: 1) see the building in person, 2) take pictures, 3) use local records to learn more about their design and construction.

I'd say I met all three of those objectives on this trip.

Fig. 1: Ashby Free Public Library
Fig. 2: The stained glass atrium in the center of the building.
Fig. 3: Front door of the library with "PUBLIC LIBRARY" visible.

The land that the library was built on was bought from a Mrs. Elizabeth S. Green and the library building was built by Lewis Damon, a resident of Ashby. The building was designed by H.M. Francis and his firm and the library was dedicated on June 17, 1902. The building was designed in the Classical Style with red pressed brick and brownstone trimmings. 

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Library Road Trip

With a week's vacation looming over the horizon, I've decided to take a road trip to H.M. Francis libraries in Vermont.
Though I intend on devoting more energy towards baseball research this summer, I've wanted to photograph these libraries and visit them while I could. I think this road trip as well as others to New Hampshire and around Massachusetts will be a good way to book-end my Francis research for the time being.

The libraries in Vermont that I plan on visiting are:

  • Tenney Memorial Library in Newbury
  • Kimball Library in Randolph
  • Blake Memorial Library in East Corinth
  • Abbott Memorial Library in Pomfret
  • Rockingham Public Library in Bellows Falls

Patrick Moran Baseball Card (1 of 5)

Fig. 1: 1911 Patrick Moran baseball card
Fig. 2: Backside of the 1911 Patrick Moran baseball card

Through the same collection in the Library of Congress, this was the first of five baseball cards with Patrick Moran.

The backside of the card reads:


Patrick J. Moran, who caught for the Philadelphia Nationals in 1910, came to that team from the Cubs, with whom he had played four seasons. Before that he had been with the Boston Nationals, and in his last year with them, in 78 games behind the bat, led all the catchers in the National League, with the high average of .986.
In 1910, his average for the year was again the highest recorded for any National League backstop."

John James "Nixey" Callahan Baseball Card

Fig. 1: "Callahan-Chicago-Amer." A 1912 baseball card of "Nixey" Callahan
Fig. 2: Backside of the "Nixey" Callahan baseball card.

The American Memory Project of the Library of Congress has a great collection of baseball cards from 1887-1914. I found this one of "Nixey" Callahan. It is the only card of him in their collection, but there may be others.

The backside of the card reads:

"John James Callahan

Jimmy Callahan, the greatest 'come-back' of balldom, began playing ball in Pepperell, Mass., in 1893, just 19 years ago. He was tried out by the Phillies in 1894, but it was not until 1897 that he was finally judged fast enough to stick in polite society. The Chicago Nationals took him on and he stuck until jumping to the White Sox in 1902, where he worked as combination pitcher and outfielder. Cal has the come-back habit strong. After several years of retirement, he came back as a player in 1911 and as a manager in 1912. Last season Callahan hit .281, with a fielding average of .963."

New Project

After nearly three years of studying the architecture of H.M. Francis in Fitchburg, I'm moving on to a new research topic.
The work of the Francis firm will always be something I'll have a fascination in, but I feel it is necessary to begin working on another project.

Starting in May, I'm going to begin researching baseball teams in Fitchburg. Baseball was a very big part of my childhood as well as the lives of countless other young boys in America. I have very strong, emotional ties to Little League Baseball, Major League Baseball and even the minor leagues. The intricacy, chess match-like qualities of baseball have always fascinated me to a great degree. I enjoy the silence of the game. The pops of the bat, the skidding of the grass, the hurried footsteps of the batters as well as the smell of fresh cut grass, and the heat of the afternoon sun all have a special place in my heart. Through all of the events of a baseball game, the voices of the players are often subdued, and muted to spectators. You have to rely on umpire signals, player body language and dirt kicking to understand what the players go through. Today's television coverage will sometimes feature a player wearing a microphone through warm-ups or even in the dugout but those invasions taint the game for me. It's much more powerful to be a casual onlooker interpreting the grimaces and celebrations than a fly on the wall. I've attended numerous baseball games in my life, whether it's professional (Red Sox), minor league (Spinners, Sea Dogs, Paw Sox) or even amateur (Tornadoes) and no matter where my seat was, I rarely heard the dugout banter or discussions amongst players.

I much prefer that atmosphere, that wall between the spectator and athlete, the fan and the superstar.

My research is a bit open-ended at this point. I haven't devoted much time to preparing an outline towards a thesis or working goal, other to simply learn. I decided upon Fitchburg baseball because it is my current home but also because baseball at its infancy, as well as during the "deadball era" had many social and cultural implications on a community.

Two players that I want to focus on, in regards to their relationships to Fitchburg are Patrick Moran and "Nixey" Callahan.
Both grew up in Fitchburg, playing on local youth teams but later made it to the American and National Leagues.

Patrick Moran was manager of the Cincinnati Reds in 1919 when the Chicago White Sox threw the World Series and were blacklisted from baseball. It's also been said that Callahan threw the first no-hitter in the American League.

Though their major league exploits are fairly well-documented in various encyclopedias and online databases, I'm interested in seeing Moran and Callahan at a more local level before they made it to the big stage.

As the school year winds down and summer begins, I'll continue to post my research findings and get back into old grooves.