Thursday, 4:30 PM
A ‘215th birthday’ for Pittsfield as baseball’s ‘Garden of Eden’
By Andrew Ryan, Globe Correspondent
August was a tough month for baseball in Massachusetts. The governor signed a law making basketball the state’s official sport, and the injury-racked Red Sox went 9-21, dropping from a tie for first place in the AL East on Aug. 1 to virtual elimination from playoff contention by month’s end.
Today in Pittsfield, however, the game got a pick-me-up, complete with a jazz band, a chocolate marble cake and well wishes from a crowd of 100 that included Mayor James M. Ruberto.
The event celebrated baseball’s 215th “birthday,” marking the first recorded mention of the game in known history when a Pittsfield bylaw passed on Sept. 5, 1791, banned the playing with bats and balls near the town’s newly constructed meeting house.
“This is a great, feel-good thing that baseball needed,” said birthday party organizer Brian P. Johnson. “It kind of tells you that despite all the gloom and doom if you are a Red Sox fan, the game itself goes on. The game transcends the Red Sox. The game transcends all things.”
In 2004, baseball historian John Thorn discovered the 1791 town ordinance, putting Pittsfield’s connection to baseball 48 years before Abner Doubleday accepted invention of the game in 1839 in Cooperstown, N.Y., where the National Baseball Hall of Fame now stands. The Hall of Fame recognized the ordinance as the first known reference to the game and honored the town with a plaque.
Johnson, 55, and another Pittsfield resident, Phil Massery, 53, don’t think that the plaque goes far enough. The pair has been campaigning to build a series of bronze statues in town to commemorate what they call the “innocence of the game” in its symbolic birth place. Their planned monument includes three human-like statutes of a bat, a ball and a glove dressed in old fashioned baseball uniforms.
“Bat, ball and glove will be the guardians of baseball’s Garden of Eden,” Johnson said, with a chuckle. “We get a little carried away with our metaphors here.”
The monument, which is estimated to cost just under $200,000, has yet to find a major financial backer, Johnson said. However, three supporters dressed in full costumes as ball, bat and glove are scheduled to appear at tonight’s Red Sox game at Fenway Park against the Chicago White Sox.
In August, lawmakers designated basketball as the official state sport because, according to that game’s lore, it was invented in Springfield by James Naismith in 1891. That didn’t stop Pittsfield from going forward with the hubbub planned for baseball’s birthday today downtown in Park Square.
“Isn’t that crazy?” said John Krol, a spokesman for Pittsfield Mayor James M. Ruberto, when asked about the designation of basketball as the state’s official sport.
To underscore his point, Krol sang a few bars of an original jazz song written for today’s party that recounts the history of the game, including the Pittsfield connection.
“It kind of goes, ‘Happy birthday, baseball,’” Krol said, singing in a low, silky voice.