I felt honored when Dr. Mark Eberle of Kansas invited me to write the Foreword to his new book, Kansas Baseball History, 1857-1941, which he has prepared for the Nebraska University Press. A Foreword is, of course, “a word to the fore,” in this case a 4,000-word Foreword, the number requested by his publisher. Writing at that length gave me a chance to explain how closely Dr. Eberle’s understanding of early town baseball fits with my view of it.
I’ve noticed that when some historians mention early baseball play, it’s usually just as a steppingstone to the aspect of baseball they want to write about: the major leagues. To them, the major leagues equal baseball. But early town baseball has made a valuable cultural contribution, too.
As I wrote in my Foreword, “Mark E. Eberle is one of the few who understand and recognize the importance of early baseball as played in towns around the United States beginning right after the Civil War, not just as a prelude to the establishment of the major leagues but for itself.”
The extensive research that Eberle engaged in furnishes his book with countless details to support the conclusion that the town baseball park became a rich center for social life, with colorful ethnic traveling teams visiting as well as neighboring town teams and their fans arriving to compete in sport and boast about their teams and their towns. These lively places gradually became historical sites where millions of Americans established their connection with the American National Game.
As I wrote in my Foreword, “In preparing this history of early Kansas baseball, Dr. Eberle has given us a valuable approach to understanding who we are as Americans.”
Early baseball sites are now being recognized as an important part of our history. Where I grew up, in Cleveland, Ohio, the community surrounding League Park, where a variety of players all the way from local amateurs to big leaguers have left their legacy, the community has restored the run-down park in a run-down neighborhood into something special. Now local residents have a new recreation facility with a Baseball Heritage Museum and a new baseball field surrounded by walking trails. This establishment inspired the restoration of the entire neighborhood into a place where people can go to feel refreshed.
Amateur baseball can be an important part of the glue that holds society together.
Support your local ballplayers!