I Don't Care If I Never Get Back ... A Baseball History Tour

Article excerpt

The baseball road trip has become something of a national obsession it seems. Visiting ballparks, chasing after favorite teams--whatever the main passion, there is something about the road and baseball that simply goes hand in hand. Or hand in glove. I love that the concept of a baseball road trip has taken off like it has, as it has allowed me to focus on a personal mission and actually share it with an active audience. My passion is discovering and uncovering the nooks and back roads where baseball history took place, including former ballpark sites, shrines, museums, plaques, statues, and the like. Ever since I was young, playing baseball and growing up in the early 1970s, I always wondered as I stared at ancient baseball photos: Can I go stand where the Polo Grounds used to be? What about Ebbets Field? As I got older I began visiting places around the country, and little by little I was able to put together the book I always wanted to write: Roadside Baseball.

And now, if I may, I'd like to take you on a tour of what I consider to be some of the most interesting and historic baseball places in the land, the spots I believe every true baseball fan is better for visiting. Ready? Grab your mitts and let's go ...

THE BIRTH OF BASEBALL?

Elysian Fields (former site)

Corner of 11th and Washington Streets

Hoboken, New Jersey

It's a fact that Frank Sinatra was born in Hoboken ... but was baseball too? Perhaps. We know that several games similar to baseball had been played in Europe and the United States as far back as the 1600s, but it wasn't until the 1800s that baseball's closer cousin, "town ball," began to take shape. Certain facts are clear. In 1842 several men, including Alexander Cartwright and Daniel "Doc" Adams, began drafting rules for a game called "baseball." In 1845 they formed the first actual baseball "club," the Knickerbocker Baseball Club, and adopted twenty rules not previously included in earlier editions of the game, including three strikes per batter, three outs per inning, tags and force-outs in lieu of trying to hit the batter with the ball, and the inclusion of an umpire. On June 19, 1846, the Knickerbocker Baseball Club, under these new rules, played the first ever organized game versus the New York Nine. With Cartwright umping, the Knickerbockers lost the four-inning game, 23-1.

Soon after, using these rules, the sport caught on. In 1869 the first professional team, the Cincinnati Red Stockings, were formed, and in 1871 the first nationwide professional league was founded. Was this the first game ever, the so-called birth of baseball? It's hard to say for sure. But until something displaces the seminal games that took place in Hoboken, it is hard to dispute.

Doubleday Field

The Baseball Hall of Fame

25 Main Street

Cooperstown, New York

607-547-7200

It almost doesn't matter that Abner Doubleday was probably nowhere near Cooperstown during that famous summer of 1839 when he allegedly laid out the first baseball diamond and limited the number of players per side to nine. Enough baseball has been played on this field now to give it a unique history, Doubleday or no Doubleday. Here on the "mythical" birthplace of baseball, a former cow pasture called Phinney's Farm, two pro baseball games are played during each annual Baseball Hall of Fame induction weekend: the Hall of Fame game and the Hall of Fame Weekend New York-Penn League game, hosted by the Oneonta Tigers, who normally play their home games at nearby Damaschke Field.

Huntington Avenue Grounds (former site)

Original location: Left field (NW), Huntington Avenue; third base (SW), Bryant (Rogers) Street, now Forsyth Street; first base (SE) New Gravelly Point and New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad tracks; right field (NE), New Gravelly Point

Northeastern University

Boston, Massachusetts

617-373-2211

Before the 1912 opening of Fenway Park in Boston, Huntington Avenue Grounds was home to the Boston Red Sox. …