If you’ve read some of my blogs and follow me on social media, you might notice that I’m passionate about photography, baseball and I really love baseball history, especially 19th century baseball history. I’m very uncomfortable when someone refers to me as a baseball historian because there’s too much pressure with a title like that. I much prefer to think of myself as a baseball history enthusiast or student or better yet, a baseball history geek.
Several years ago, I started an organization with a few fellow baseball history geeks, and I use the term “geeks” with love and respect, called the Rochester Baseball Historical Society. I served as the organization’s first President so I guess that makes me a baseball history super geek. We’ve made great strides with our organization, such as becoming certified by the New York State Board of Regents as an educational organization. We present free public programs like lectures and 19th century baseball reenactments. We also hold an annual Hot Stove dinner in the dead of winter to reconnect with friends and the game at a time when there’s no baseball in sight.
Just in case you’re wondering, the term “Hot Stove” is an old expression that comes from the days when folks would gather around a warm potbellied stove at the general store or post office to socialize during the cold winter months. They often discussed current events, community gossip and of course, baseball. They talked about the past baseball season and what they expect for the upcoming season. Their conversations, 100 plus years ago, were probably very similar to the conversations I hear at our yearly Hot Stove dinners.
As a baseball history geek, I’ve learned that baseball’s path through history was not straight, just like America’s path. Our past-time was not invented out of thin air by one person, it evolved over time and there were many who contributed to the game we see today, just like America. Someone once said, to understand America, one must understand baseball. Throughout history the game has been a reflection of us. When our country was segregated, so too was baseball. Wherever Americans went, baseball went. I've learned that when Americans traveled westward along the Erie Canal, so did baseball. The Erie Canal runs through Rochester and there is documentation to suggest that an early form of the game was being played here in 1825, the same year that the canal opened. Baseball went to war with us. It was played in prisoner-of-war camps during our Civil War. It went over to Europe and to the Pacific with our GI's during WWII. It helped heal us after the attacks on 9/11 by offering a distraction from the horrible and sad days that followed. Today, baseball is becoming dominated by Latino players, the fasted growing population in America. Indeed, baseball was and always will be a refection of America.
I've learned a great deal about our country and our past-time over the years. I've gained many close friends because of that little white ball with the red laces. I’m proud and very comfortable to be a baseball history geek!
1880's trade card from my 19th century baseball collection
Another one of my 19th century baseball treasures. An apron style catcher's chest protector.