Baseball Americana: Library of Congress

For anyone who is going to be in the Washington, D.C. area in the near future, this looks like a fascinating opportunity to learn about the Library of Congress’s baseball collections.  The LoC currently has a Baseball Americana exhibit featuring items from their collections and from their partners as they relate to the game’s history.  You can find information about the exhibit and some of the online collections on their website.

On Thursday, July 12th, there will be a screening of the 1989 classic Field of Dreams that is apparently free to the public.  Tickets can be secured here.

Then on Friday, July 13th, the LoC is teaming up with JSTOR labs, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, and Wikimedia for an event that appears to be a sort of mini conference featuring not only the collections, but also a panel on baseball, data, and American culture.  The poster for the event is below, and more information can be found through Eventbrite here.

These are just a couple events associated with the exhibit.  More information regarding additional events can be found here.  It’s one of those things that makes me wish I had a bit more flexibility for travel, because I’d totally go to check some of this stuff out if I could.  If anyone reading any of this happens to attend any (or all!) of these, please report back here!

LC Labs Inside Baseball


Deadball, by David B. Stinson

This weekend I finished reading Deadball: A Metaphysical Baseball Novel by David B. Stinson.  I stumbled upon this book accidentally, actually while looking for another book (I can no longer recall which) about the Dead Ball Era.  Stinson’s novel is not about the era — not really, anyways.  Rather, this novel is somewhat Field of Dreams-esque in that the book’s main character finds himself seeing the ghosts of long gone ballplayers and sometimes even the old ballparks they used to play in, but which have long since been abandoned or torn down.

The protagonist of this novel is one Byron deadballBennett, a.k.a. “Bitty,” though he despises the nickname.  Byron is a former minor league ballplayer who never made it past the AAA level, but continues to stay obsessed with baseball and with baseball history.  As a kid, Byron once saw the deceased Babe Ruth hit a home run at a local ballpark.  Upon crossing home plate, Ruth winked at Byron, then disappeared.  Byron’s parents and friends dismissed the experience as Byron’s imagination.  Years later, Byron now finds himself having additional, similar experiences.

The year is now 1999, and Byron works for the minor league Bowie Baysox, an affiliate of his favorite MLB team, the Baltimore Orioles.  In his spare time, Byron not only goes to Orioles games, he also steeps himself in baseball history.  1999 represents the final year for baseball in Detroit’s Tiger Stadium, and with that in mind, Byron decides to travel to Detroit for the Orioles’ final series in that stadium.  He meets an older gentleman who calls himself Mac, though Byron suspects there is more to Mac than meets the eye.  For one thing, the bar where Byron meets Mac has been shut down and boarded up for years, as confirmed by the locals, though it certainly didn’t appear that way when Byron first came across it.

Byron’s road trip brings him not only to Detroit, but he also stops at the former site of Forbes Field, and he stops in Cleveland on his return trip.  Byron comes across a number of other characters, all who, like Mac, don’t seem like your normal, everyday humans-on-the-street.  Byron goes on various road trips throughout the season, visiting old ballpark sites in New York and Boston, and even stopping in graveyards to pay his respects to old ballplayers.  On his travels, Byron carries with him a copy of Lawrence Ritter’s Lost Ballparks, which he references whenever he finds himself in the presence of one of the old time baseball fields.  On occasion, the ballparks seem to come alive in his presence, and he starts to look forward to the occurrence.  Byron also has an encyclopedic familiarity with old ballplayers, and he is stunned to realize that the strange gentlemen he is meeting in his travels are all former, and now-deceased, ballplayers.

Byron’s friends, boss, and ex-wife are all concerned about him, of course.  They tell him it is time to stop living in the past and to let go of baseball so he can move on with his life.  The word “crazy” is thrown around liberally, and Byron sometimes even wonders himself.  He doesn’t understand how it is he is seeing these things, nor why.  In addition to the ghosts he comes across, Byron also meets a man named Peter, who is President of the Cleveland Spiders Historical Society and is very much alive.  Peter recognizes Byron’s ability to see old players and old ballparks, because he sees them as well.  However, Peter warns that he has known others like them, and those others no longer have any memory of ever having these visions.  Byron, in spite of his concerns about his own sanity, worries that he, too, will lose the ability to see the old ballparks.

Much of the novel is spent in the details of Byron’s exploration: descriptions of the ballparks, of the cities in which they are located, down to street-by-street directions at times.  These details sometimes border on tedious, but all the same, I had to admire their inclusion, as it makes it clear that the author, Stinson, has experienced these locations himself and is now gracious enough to share them with us.  The reader also doesn’t learn about the purpose behind Byron’s odyssey literally until the very, very end of the novel, which concerned me as I started to run out of pages and the resolution seemed nowhere in sight.  But a resolution does come, and it is a fascinating one.

I suppose I shouldn’t speak to the experience as just any casual reader, but as a baseball fan I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  The pages go by quickly, and I found myself immersed in the details, the characters, and in Byron’s knowledge of baseball.  The descriptions of the ballparks Byron was able to see even made me jealous, wishing that I could be in Byron’s shoes, seeing these ballparks myself, rather than just reading about them.  If you get the opportunity, I highly recommend this one.


Theme from “Field of Dreams”

A few days ago, I posted the theme from The Natural, and today brings us the familiar music of Field of Dreams.  Enjoy!


Quote of the day

‘God what an outfield,’ he says. ‘What a left field.’ He looks up at me, and I look down at him. ‘This must be heaven,’ he says.

‘No. It’s Iowa,’ I reply automatically. But then I feel the night rubbing softly against my face like cherry blossoms; look at the sleeping girl-child in my arms, her small hand curled around one of my fingers; think of the fierce warmth of the woman waiting for me in the house; inhale the fresh-cut grass small that seems locked in the air like permanent incense; and listen to the drone of the crowd, as below me Shoelss Joe Jackson tenses, watching the angle of the distant bat for a clue as to where the ball will be hit.

‘I think you’re right, Joe,’ I say, but softly enough not to disturb his concentration.

~W.P. Kinsella, Shoeless Joe

Amazon

Amazon


5-4-3 Triple play

Here’s a cool video of an around-the-horn triple play by the Durham Bulls.  Perhaps the most impressive thing about the play was how cleanly the team executed it.  I’d say there is some question as to whether the runner was truly out at first, but it’s still enjoyable to watch, all the same.

The original story can be found here.


Is this Heaven?: A pilgrimage to the Field of Dreams

The first thing I noticed as we pulled up the drive was the vast array of vehicles already lining the parking lot.  After six tedious hours of driving, we finally arrived at our destination: the Field of Dreams movie site, located just northeast of Dyersville, Iowa.  We made our hotel reservation back in mid-May, and I had been waiting with enthusiastic, even if restrained, anticipation ever since to make the journey.  In spite of the downpour of rain and storms that we encountered driving through Missouri, Iowa embraced us with mostly clear skies and warm, 80-degree sunshine.

I deliberately scheduled the visit for a Sunday, in order for us to take advantage of the Ghost Sunday event.  I did not entirely know what to expect, though in my mind I had visions of players emerging from the cornfield and hitting the diamond for some old-fashioned baseball: old school wool uniforms, old-style equipment, some fun and camaraderie, in direct emulation of the movie.  I did not expect a full-blown competitive baseball contest, but I did envision pitching, batting, base-stealing, and perhaps even a nineteen-year-old kid in a New York Giants uniform winking at the pitcher as he takes his stance in the batter’s box.

We arrived with about forty-five minutes to spare before the exhibition was scheduled to begin, so we decided to meander around for a bit.  The grass proved every bit as green as I pictured it.  A lot more people had also shown up than I expected.  The wooden bleachers filled up rapidly with spectators, as did the benches intended to designate each team’s “dugout.”  Lawn chairs lined up along each baseline, and crowds of people milled around the concession and souvenir stands.  The field itself was crowded with people playing mock ballgames, shagging flies, and playing catch.  We headed out to the corn, where even more people took pictures and feigned disappearing into and reappearing out from between the tall, almost-harvest-ready stalks.  I doubt that any other cornfield in the world receives as much attention from the general public as the one at the Field of Dreams.

FOD06

With one o’ clock fast approaching, we eventually made our way to the emptier set of bleachers and settled down for the show.  As I hoped, we witnessed the ghost players materializing from the cornfield, eager for the opportunity to return to playing a game they so loved in their living years.  They made their way to the diamond and were introduced to the crowd, and many of them, we learned, had played a role in the movie.  They wore the old-style Chicago White Sox uniforms, bearing the design from the years of “Shoeless” Joe Jackson and made of wool.

FOD15

Ghost players emerging from the corn

The rest of the spectacle, however, did not proceed quite as I anticipated.  Rather than playing a game amongst themselves, the ghost players recruited a group of youngsters from the crowd, giving each kid the opportunity to bat and run the bases against them.  It had more of a circus-type vibe than I had envisaged, being much more family- and kid-oriented.  Nevertheless, the humor and the interactions proved highly entertaining, and I was not disappointed, in spite of having my expectations thwarted.

At the show’s conclusion, we still had nearly an hour to kill before we could check into the hotel, so we wandered around the grounds some more.  The lines at the souvenir stand doubled in length as people sought to purchase merchandise for the ghost players to autograph.  We dove in and out of the corn a few more times, checked out the house, and I contemplated the feel of the grass and the infield dirt beneath my shoes.  Finally, we headed to the hotel to check in and rest for a couple hours.

We later headed into town in search of dinner.  Dyersville, population 4,000, reminded me of every other small, American town I have ever frequented.  The downtown area featured a street of locally owned shops lined up next to one another, most of which had already closed by the time we arrived that evening.  In our quest for food, we managed to stumble across the Basilica of St. Francis Xavier, a Catholic parish featuring Gothic architecture.  Before continuing on to filling our bellies, we decided to explore.

St. Francis Xavier Basilica

St. Francis Xavier Basilica

It was the kind of church that, if it were close enough to where I live, I would show up for mass every single Sunday, without fail.  As impressive as it looked on the outside, the inside of the Basilica was absolutely breathtaking.  Over the years, I have struggled with the idea of God and religion, but I found myself wondering whether taking pictures inside such a magnificent parish could be considered a sin.  A couple times, I found that I had to stop walking around and simply sit down and let myself get lost in the aura of this sanctuary.

Our return home the next day proved predominantly uneventful, even if we did get rained on again.  We stopped in Ames, Iowa for lunch at the Olde Main Brewing Co.  The beer tasted delicious, even if the food did not quite live up to the same standard.  I cannot say whether the trip as a whole had any profound impact on me, and I won’t pretend to have had any life-changing epiphanies, but I am certainly glad to have had the experience.  It was a trip that included a visit to two beautiful cathedrals, one for baseball and one for Catholicism, and I would contend that my life is that much more fulfilled because of it.

Inside the Basilica


This day in baseball: Moonlight Graham’s debut

Thanks to the movie Field of Dreams, almost everybody has heard of Moonlight Graham.  As a right fielder for the New York Giants, Archibald Wright “Moonlight” Graham made his Major League debut on 29 June 1905, at the age of twenty-seven.  In the bottom of the eighth inning against the Brooklyn Superbas, Graham came into the game as a defensive replacement for George Browne.  He never had the opportunity to step up to the plate, however, standing in the on-deck circle as Claude Elliott flied out to end the top of the ninth.  Graham played again defensively in the bottom of the ninth, but never had the chance to record an at-bat as the Giants won 11-1.  It would be his only Major League appearance, as he was sent back to the minors the following day.

Image result for moonlight graham

Completing his medical degree from the University of Maryland in 1905 (where he also played halfback for the school’s football team in 1904 and 1905), Graham concluded his baseball career in 1908.  He went on to obtain his license and began practicing medicine in Chisholm, Minnesota.  “Doc” Graham served as a good and loyal doctor to the people of Chisholm for fifty years.  He died in 1965.

In 1975, W. P. Kinsella happened to read about Graham’s short-lived baseball career in The Baseball Encyclopedia.  He included Moonlight Graham as a character in his 1982 novel, Shoeless Joe, on which the movie Field of Dreams is based.