Baseball in the Ocean State

Wed, 10/19/2016 - 4:55pm -- lwhite

The ups and downs that is Baseball, a game where even the best players fail seventy percent of the time, is very much weaved into the fabric of America, even though it predates our origins by hundreds if not thousands of years. Most baseball scholars assert that Baseball is derived from the English game of “Rounders”. Even before “Rounders”, there was trap ball, stool ball, one old cat, and other games which were very much the same, but had different names in each town you went.  There is evidence of bat and ball games being played in Northern Europe in the early 1300’s. Ghistelles Hours, a 14th-century Flemish book of hours now in the collection of the Walters Art Gallery of Baltimore depicts a calendar with two young men playing a bat and ball game under the month of September.

Some scholars insist that baseball goes back earlier than that.  Recently, Egyptologists have discovered evidence that baseball precedes the 1300’s and it is located on the temple wall of Deir el-Bahari in Western Thebes. It depicts a Pharaoh playing the game Seker- Hemat or batting the ball, a religious ceremony where the Pharaoh would hit a ball to his priests. Realistically baseball can be assumed to have been played in pre-history, when man first picked up a stick and hit a rock in the air for amusement.

Baseball in America, as we know it today is the evolution off all the games mentioned above. With each new rule, new addition or subtraction, the bat and ball games of our ancestors would slowly be formed into the organized sport followed by millions. The first mention of the game using the term baseball happens in 1791 in Pittsfield, Massachusetts wherein a bylaw bans “base ball” and other games played with a ball within 80 yards of the town meeting house due to damaged windows. It is safe to assume that the game was already here in the United States prior to its first mention. 

But what about Rhode Island? It is the tiniest state in the Union but for its size it has a lot of Baseball history. The most obvious baseball history tidbit is the longest game in baseball was played in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. It would begin on April 18, 1981 and go 32 innings before the Pawtucket Red Sox beat the Rochester Redwings 3-2 in the final inning played on June 23. Future Hall of Famers Cal Ripken Jr, baseball’s “Iron Man”, and Wade Boggs would take part in that historic game.

If you go a little deeper, Rhode Island can claim to be the home of the first World Series Champions. Though Major League baseball considers the 1903 series the first World Series, the first interleague game called that was played in 1884 at the Polo Grounds in New York City. The Providence Grays would take on the New York Metropolitans and end up winning. The Greys would bounce around from major to minor leagues after that and the Metropolitans would become the Yankees.

Babe Ruth, arguably the most famous name in Baseball, had some playing time in Providence as he was a Gray in the 1914 season. The Grays were purchased by Red Sox Owner Joseph Lannin and when he later purchased Ruth’s contract from Baltimore the future “Sultan of Swat” would be sent to Providence. Though Ruth would hit only one home run in his time with the Grays, the mere presence of this 19 year old was a huge boon for baseball in Providence.

 Ruth pictured top center in the 1914 team photo of the Providence Greys Minor League Team

 The Grays would also be the first team to install a protective screen behind home plate. Known as the slaughter pen, the seats directly behind home plate were very dangerous for spectators as foul balls would often be hit resulting in injuries. The Gray’s home field, the Messer Street Grounds, would be the first park to have such protection. Sadly it would be sold in 1886 and demolished in 1887.

Photo of the Providence Grays(r) and the 1878 champs Boston Red Caps(l) on Messer Street Grounds. 1879

Here in Newport, we have a good claim for the oldest continually used ballfield in the country with Cardines Field. Though construction at the field is documented in 1908, many believe that the game of baseball was played there years earlier as an unofficial sandlot field for the local railroad workers. Notable names such as Satchel Page actually played within its bounds and it is still used today for the local collegiate league, The Newport Gulls.

Cardines Field during a summer evening ball game. Photo by Newport Gulls