Sam Burnham, Curator
The Major League Baseball lockout is delaying the opening of the regular season and leaving baseball fans holding their hats and their mitts while two opposing sets of millionaires (and at least a few assorted billionaires bicker about what is "fair." This is far from the first time a labor dispute has robbed fans of our national pastime. Strikes have plagued baseball for decades and the average fan is who always seems to pay the price.
It was an internet meme that led me to an epiphany. I'm a bit disappointed that I didn't arrive at this conclusion on my own. I mean over-centralization is the ubiquitous problem that is destroying everything good and pure and beautiful and functional in our world today. It was as plain as the nose on my face. Baseball is over-centralized.
The meme suggests that college baseball is attracting the attention of fans who are hungry for action on the diamond and are willing to look anywhere to find it. This brings me to a point. 100 years ago, MLB was the pinnacle of baseball. Fans in big cities which is to say the Northeast and Midwest, flocked to stadiums that not only housed the home team but also offered fans with an expanse of greenspace that was atypical in the city. The sport gave city dwellers a connection to some semblance of nature, a connection to the land. It was the closest many people would ever get to the countryside.
Elsewhere in the country, baseball was scattered throughout small clubs, industrial leagues. recreational clubs, etc. Baseball was everywhere despite the fact that the only news most fans had of MLB was seeing box scores in the newspaper. Local teams meant that fans had baseball available where they were. Televised games were as nonexistent as television itself. The very first radio broadcast of a game was in 1921, some 17 seasons after The Boston Red Sox beat the Pittsburgh Pirates in the first ever World Series. Baseball wasn't the national pastime because of the glitz and glamor of the Big Leagues. It was the national pastime because it was everywhere. MLB was just one piece of the pie.
Sure, we have the Minor Leagues today. But they are coming under increased control of MLB. As the Big Leagues cut ties to smaller clubs and take a more hands-on approach, the Minors suffer. Recently the Chattanooga Lookouts, who have been playing ball in the Scenic City since 1885, were informed by MLB that they would have to relocate if the city fathers did not agree to replace their 22-year-old stadium. Chattanooga stands to lose a 137-year-old tradition because people who do not live there have determined that AT&T Field "does not offer the proper amenities for players."
So, the same people who locked out the players denying Chattanoogans the chance to see the Braves or the Lookouts' affiliate Cincinatti Reds are saying Minor League Baseball may leave the city.
Take a look at MLB baseball. Thirty teams filling out 40-man rosters means that 1200 players take the field. That's an exclusive bunch, considering the players now come from all of the Earth. There is a very fine line between "Player 1200" and "Player 1201." Some incredible ballplayers will never see the field in the Major Leagues. Many of them will wow crowds in places like Chattanooga, Tennessee, Greeneville, South Carolina, or Rome, Georgia.
There is a lot of good baseball out there that is not happening in the big leagues. And there can be even more. That "Army of Steam Rollers" that Terrance Mann (James Earl Jones) spoke of in his soliloquy at the denouement of Field of Dreams is sitting in the garages all over America, just waiting for someone to open the doors. Yes, college baseball is part of that army. So are the Minor Leagues. But there are also divisions of that army that, at present, only lie in the human imagination. The players are available. That means the coaches and managers are as well. Baseball could have a very bright future if we are willing to support the return of its past. Decntralized baseball. Local baseball. Regional baseball.
Yes, MLB offers us the best players at the peak of their performance. It offers the fans amenities that can't be found elsewhere. But is that what the game is about? For a true fan, a real purist, the game is portable. There's the strategy, the fundamentals, the smell of fresh cut grass, a hot dog and a cold beer, keeping score in the stands. There's the leisure of enjoying a game on a beautiful spring afternoon. There's the decadence of skipping work for a "businessman's special." There's watching the sunset at a twilight doubleheader. These aren't patented by MLB. We could do this elsewhere.
I thought I had come to hate baseball after the strike in '94-'95. I finally came back a few years ago and learned that I really enjoy the game. But I enjoy it for the traditional nature of the game. I enjoy everything that is beautiful about the game. I hate the greed and the selfishness of the owners and the union. I don't ever remember reading about a strike or lockout in the textile leagues. Minor leaguers are too busy trying to get to the majors to get involved in such nonsense. We have better options available. And then there are the divisions of steamrollers holed up in the imaginations of fans and purists.
Will imagination and money ever meet up? Will MLB remain the only show in town? Only time will tell.
Sam Burnham, Curator
It happens about this time every year. The Georgia Bulldogs and the Florida Gators, along with their respective faithful, make a pilgrimage to Jacksonville to compete for a year’s worth of bragging rights and often a leg up for the SEC East title. They’ve been doing this since 1933, except for the two years taken off while the historic Gator Bowl stadium was converted into whatever they’re calling it this week.
It’s an old tradition that remains one of college football’s last neutral site rivalry games. The tailgating atmosphere that spills out of the stadium parking lot and spreads all over town has come to be known as the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party...because that’s what it is. The stories from this cultural event are the stuff of legend. My dad and uncle (Georgia and Florida fans, respectively) went a few times. On one occasion they were driving through town with the windows down on a beautiful Florida fall afternoon. They came to a red light nowhere near the stadium. A car pulls up beside them in the left lane. The driver of the other car looks at my uncle in the passenger seat and says “hey buddy, you want a beer?” And then hands him a cold beer through the car windows.
Welcome to the WLOCP.
But this rivalry goes back further than 1933. The first game was in 1904...or maybe 1915, depending on who you ask. But the Georgia-Florida rivalry is even older than that.
When James Oglethorpe proposed the Colony of Georgia in 1730, it was to be a buffer between the existing British colonies and Spanish Florida. Spain had an important fort, The Castillo de San Marcos, at St. Augustine, south of present day Jacksonville. Oglethorpe led military campaigns to oppose the Spanish. Ft. King George was built at Darien and Ft. Frederica and Ft. St. Simons were built on St. Simons Island to defend against Spanish invasion. Oglethorpe would lay siege to St. Augustine more than once. The War of Jenkins’ Ear was, in part fought in this area. The Battle of Bloody Marsh took place on St. Simons. Georgia and Florida have been fighting around Jacksonville since before Jacksonville was even there.
There are those who would move this rivalry to include Atlanta or even “home and home.” Why would you want to mess up a good thing? It has worked for almost 90 years as a football rivalry and 290 years as a rivalry, period. This should never be changed. It’s both states at their finest. Epic hospitality meets epic animosity and they go so well together. Seeing that clean break behind each goal post where orange and blue turn to red and black and then back again...you can’t beat it. It’s just beautiful.
So here I stand with Jacksonville and the WLOCP. May it continue for another 300 years.
Sam Burnham, Curator
Oak Hill Cemetery is not a recent discovery of mine. In fact, I have noticed it in passing all my life. However, I recently made what was only my second visit into the site. Once known as West Seventh Avenue CEmetery, Oak Hill was initially established on the outskirts of town as Rome's first municipal cemetery in 1837. At that point in history the town was brand new. The hill offered an elevation that would keep graves out of the flood waters when the Ooostanaula jumped its banks. Flooded graves have macabre tendencies and it is best to keep them above the waterline as much as possible.
Over the years the city grew and the the passing of locals quickly filled the small hilltop. A new cemetery was established at Myrtle Hill and Oak Hill burials tapered off and finally ceased. What was once the outskirts of town is now considered very much downtown. What was once known as West Seventh Avenue is now known as Riverside Parkway. Neighboring Lumpkin Hill, one of Rome's Seven, was largely excavated to make way for Turner McCall Boulevard. A shopping center sprung up between the cemetery and the highway. Georgia Power installed a substation just across W 7th. Apartment homes were built along the backside of the property. Oak Hill was now encased in a shell of modern development. And in that shell it has been largely forgotten.
I don’t want to suggest that there’s some criminal level of neglect going on here. The city government keeps the grass mowed, the weeds trimmed, and the grounds are clean and maintained. But you can’t help but notice the deterioration and decay. Many of the grave markers are worn with the passage of time. Some of the masonry structures are crumbling.
The people interred here were important in their time. They include one of the city founders, a Revolutionary War widow, and a U.S. congressman. Members of Rome’s most prominent families in the town’s earliest days are buried here. In death, wealth and influence passed on to others and memories of these people faded as those who knew and loved them passed on as well.
The people here are largely forgotten because no one who knew them remains and few people know their stories. That’s how the world works.
The legacy of those buried here is carried on by local historians who care about this place, these people, these stories.
Oak Hill holds for us a metaphor for our history and our culture.
As modernity has grown up around it, access has become limited. It lies hidden in plain sight. None of that “progress” would have been possible without it yet it lies largely forgotten and fading into the past.
”Much that once was is lost, for none now live who remember it.” - Fellowship of the Ring
In such an era as this, the preservation of history and culture depends on people who care about it. It can’t be a passive effort. It requires people being active in defending it, loving it, honoring it. It requires us to be engaged. And it requires us to share the stories and traditions that our society is built on.
If our history and culture are an afterthought hidden in a quaint little pocket surrounded by “progress,” then they’re both doomed. We will all be sucked into the abyss of modern American pop monoculture. We will cease to be Southern. We will lose all our uniqueness. We will become something generic and bland. We will cease to be Southern.
I, for one, do not intend on going down that path.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire