Sam Burnham, Curator
Some of my essential travel of late carries me past our local minor league baseball stadium. We should be on the verge of a new season but that’s all on hold for now. There has been a maintenance crew out replacing the lights. Their crane and lift is gradually doing a lap around the park. It is a slow but steady suggestion that this pause will end and the stadium will be ready for the games to commence.
In the meantime I’ve been watching the nine episode (inning) documentary on the history of baseball from Ken Burns.
Let me start by saying that I'm a football guy, primarily. But baseball has been pulling me back over the last few years and I was really looking forward to this season. The Ken Burns special made me want it all the more.
They put a lot of spotlight on the layout of the baseball park. People living in cities were (are) treat to the sight of the open expanse of green as they enter. Such a sight is uncommon in a place like New York, Boston, or Philadelphia. Something that we take for granted out here in God's country is something city dwellers might only see at a baseball game. I had never thought of that before. This opens another dimension on the game.
Then there was the parade of Southerners who played the game. "Shoeless" Joe Jackson came from South Carolina and learned his swing from a Confederate veteran who learned the game in a Union POW camp. There was "The Georgia Peach" - Ty Cobb. Jackie Robinson and Josh Gibson also came from Georgia. Satchel Paige and Hank Aaron were from Alabama. That is just a few of the many.
There was beautiful amount of coverage on the Negro Leagues and smaller leagues as well. The Negro Leagues offered Major League caliber baseball in locations that might not otherwise have games. Barnstorming through large stadiums and small towns alike, these teams played far more games than the MLB teams and they played beyond the confines of the MLB season.
These were the stories that made the game special. No matter who was playing or where it was played, the game was the same. There were traditions, rules, even songs, that followed the game to every variation.
This documentary is just the tip of the iceberg though. Though stadiums are shuttered all over America, baseball is still alive. I've seen numerous photos on social media of socially distanced baseball. I've seen it everywhere from the backyard to the beach on Cumberland Island. Like the now famous speech by Terrance Mann (James Earl Jones) in the denouement of Field of Dreams, this army of steamrollers won't be stopped. Some form of baseball has been played on this continent for over 200 years. It carried us through our Civil War. It sustained our boys though World War II. It survived the Great Depression. It'll take more than this to swipe it away.
That sense of permanence should inspire us. It should encourage us. When we come out of this, we know a familiar face will be waiting on us.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire