Stafford Historical Society celebrates town’s baseball history

By Annie Gentile - ReminderNews
Stafford - posted Wed., Aug. 29, 2012
The Stafford Historical Society is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year with several revolving exhibits, including one about the town's history of baseball. A portion of the exhibit is also on display at Town Hall. Photo by Annie Gentile.
The Stafford Historical Society is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year with several revolving exhibits, including one about the town's history of baseball. A portion of the exhibit is also on display at Town Hall. Photo by Annie Gentile.

About five or six years ago, Stafford Historical Society President Dave Bartlett attended a vintage baseball tournament in Hartford. There, he saw teams from various area towns dressed in period uniforms and playing by 1800s-era rules.

“It got me to thinking whether Stafford had a team of their own back then,” said Bartlett.

Bartlett soon found himself searching through the boxes and boxes of old weekly Stafford newspapers the SHS had on file that went back as far as the 1870s. It turned out Stafford did have a team.

“[Stafford’s] two big rivals seemed to be Rockville and Monson [Mass.],” said Bartlett. He then started considering whether he might be able to pull together enough information from the newspapers and local residents to put together a display.

“This was a natural fit for me. I love history and I love baseball,” said Bartlett. His research netted him a number of names, and through internet searches and phone calls, he began to pull together more information. “I found that Stafford never had anyone get to the major leagues, but one did make it to the AAA. His name was Ronnie Curnan and he played for the Rochester Redwings in the 1950s,” he said.

The game of baseball has always been a fluid one, with rules that have changed regularly. Evolving from other centuries-old bat and ball games out of Europe, by the mid- to late-1800s, baseball had become firmly ensconced in the United States as the national pastime.

The game has changed a bit over the years. For starters, according to the Vintage Baseball Association, prior to the 1880s, the game was called “base ball” (two words, not one) and many of the rules were different, such as a hit ball being allowed to bounce once and then be caught to be considered an out.

“It was decided at some point that the one-bound rule made it too easy to get an out, so they changed it,” said Bartlett. He added that in the 1800s, batters could also dictate to the pitcher whether to throw them a high or a low pitch.

Bartlett said Stafford maintained its own town team until the 1950s, when interest began to wane and a growing interest in softball began to pick up. “I suspect TV had a part in the dwindling interest in baseball as well,” he said. Until then, games were played in either Hyde Park or at the grounds of what is now the Stafford Motor Speedway, which was once a large agricultural park and site of the Stafford Fair.

Before the advent of automobiles and buses, Bartlett said opposing teams would arrive by train and it was customary for the local team to meet the train with a wagon to take them to the ball field. Afterwards, the two teams might enjoy a large celebratory meal together.

“I looked at a lot of the old advertisements in the newspapers, and saw that men were charged 25 cents to attend the games, but ladies could attend for free,” said Bartlett. Baseball parks, he explained, were not considered the proper place for ladies, as many of the men exhibited unruly behavior and foul language and the free entry for women was an attempt to make the games more family-oriented.

Bartlett said he has yet to go through all of the newspapers from that time period, so he expects there are many more baseball articles he will want to copy. A couple of years back he said he put together a PowerPoint presentation for the SHS on the history of baseball in Stafford and some of the older residents in town shared stories of their own about the time. “I’d like to someday compile everything I find into a book,” he said.

Free and open to the public, the SHS is located at 5 Spring St. in Stafford Springs. For more information, contact Dave Bartlett at 860-684-5115. A portion of Stafford’s baseball history exhibit is also on display at Town Hall.


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