Monday, February 16, 2015

Baseball and the Presidents?

Reds pitchers and catchers report in two days. I have two space heaters going and several layers of clothing on and I can't fathom the concept of warm weather right now. WTF. If I wanted to live in Canada, I'd live in Canada. It isn't supposed to get this cold in Washington. (Thanks, SUV drivers!)

Today is Presidents Day. For awhile now, I've been interested in the way the history of baseball is intertwined with our nation's history. The game developed with our country, from soldiers at Valley Forge playing an early version of the game with - it's been rumored - George Washington himself to the annual tradition of presidents throwing out the first pitch.

Oddly enough, baseball was absent from our nation's capital for three decades, a victim of greed, apathy, and, as it turns out, history. The sixties were a tumultuous time for our country, and the center of it all was right here in the streets where I live. Whether you are a fan or not, baseball is a part of your identity, of all of our identities as Americans, no matter your creed, color, or any of the numerous other labels we use to divide ourselves from one another.

Sometime in the fifties, baseball got greedy, and heartbroken Americans everywhere were turned off. Baseball has always been greedy, though - the very first professional baseball team - the Cincinnati Red Stockings - were moved for the greener pastures of Boston after the 1870 season despite their immense popularity and seemingly unbeatable team, defeat by the Brooklyn Atlantics aside. (That seems to have been an epic game.) However, baseball was losing popularity, and by the sixties, football had taken over as the most popular sport in the country. Yet football will never have the same historical impact on our identities as baseball, as our country is pretty grown up now.

Tourists come to DC with a desire to see and feel the history of their country. Or for the most part. (If you've been around DC tourists enough, you hear things like, "Look! It's the White House!" when they're looking at the Capitol. Not sure those folks take away much from a trip here.) There are tours on foot, tours by bus, tours on bicycle, tours on Segway, tours you can hop on and off, tours for ghost enthusiasts, tours for literary folk, and now, for the first time ever, tours for baseball fans.

Sure, the Supreme Court building is beautiful, but don't you want to know more? While you should know such monumental cases as Plessy v Ferguson and Brown v Board, do you know Flood v Kuhn or Federal Baseball Club v National League? And did you know that Abe Lincoln was a baseball fan or that Teddy Roosevelt, the first president to be issued a lifetime pass to baseball games, didn't actually like baseball? Do you know how far a 565 foot homer travels, which is the record for the longest homer hit by a Major League ballplayer? Would you like to see where Mickey Mantle's 565 footer landed after he crushed it out of Griffith Stadium? How about learning about the Potomacs versus Nationals games played on the Capitol and White House lawns before anyone was paid to play the game?

Last year, I got the idea to put together a tour program of Washington with a baseball theme. Rather than hearing the standard stories, which we all should know from high school history classes, wouldn't you as a baseball fan want to hear about our favorite game's place in our nation's history? Now implementing the program is in the works. Stay tuned...

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