Program explores ‘Baseball as Mark Twain Knew It’

By Kitty LeShay - ReminderNews
Ashford - posted Wed., Feb. 19, 2014
Craig Hotchkiss, education program director at the Mark Twain House & Museum, is holding a baseball bat that would not meet regulation today. It was one of the baseball artifacts that he brought with him for his ‘Baseball as Mark Twain Knew It’ presentation at Knowlton Hall sponsored by the Friends of the Babcock Library. Photo by Kitty LeShay.
Craig Hotchkiss, education program director at the Mark Twain House & Museum, is holding a baseball bat that would not meet regulation today. It was one of the baseball artifacts that he brought with him for his ‘Baseball as Mark Twain Knew It’ presentation at Knowlton Hall sponsored by the Friends of the Babcock Library. Photo by Kitty LeShay.

Lovers of baseball, history and Mark Twain had a special treat on Valentine’s Day. Craig Hotchkiss, education program director from the Mark Twain House and Museum, gave an informative presentation on the origins and development of baseball in the 19th century. As the program's name suggested, “Baseball as Mark Twain Knew It” was a bit different than the game played today.

Mark Twain loved baseball and was a part owner of the Hartford Senators, a minor league baseball club. During the 19th century, baseball developed from a game with loose rules: the ball could be hit anywhere; no boundaries, gloves or catchers mask; and a player had to be hit by the ball to be called out. Throughout the century, regulation and rules were added until, by 1910, the same year of Twain’s death, the game had reached its modern form.

“He was the Beatles and Elvis combined at the turn of the century and is still one of the 10 most recognized Americans in the world,” Hotchkiss said of Twain. Like the game he loved, Twain was influenced and changed by a transformational century. On a personal and professional level, he evolved from steamboat captain to reporter to one of the most-read writers in the world. Twain had an opinion about most issues during the Gilded Age.  “His commentary is fresh and insightful in our time. There is timelessness to him and his work,” Hotchkiss said.

Until his death, Twain was an avid follower of baseball. He attended what was called “The Game of the Century” in 1877, which was played in Hartford between the Hartford Dark Blues and the Boston Red Stockings (no connection to the Red Sox).

Twain's first literary mention of baseball is in “Tom Sawyer,” and he moves on to a more comprehensive theme development of how our national game mirrored the best and worst traits of our national character in “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.”

As Twain was a well-known and well-loved author of fiction and an essayist, people were interested in what he had to say about everything, including baseball. In 1889, he was toast master at Delmonico’s in New York City, honoring Albert Spaulding’s world baseball tour. “They carried the American name to the outermost parts of the earth and covered it with glory,” Twain said. Later, after the Spanish-American War and the annexation of the Philippines, Guam and control of Cuba, Twain would become critical of American imperialism, Hotchkiss explained.

The audience enjoyed the presentation and learned some new information from it. “It was interesting. I’m new to baseball. I learned a lot and plan to read 'Connecticut Yankee,'” said Sue Harkness.

The program was yet another enjoyable evening out and an opportunity to learn something new at the Babcock Library's Knowlton Hall.

The Mark Twain House and Museum is one of the most important National Historic Landmarks in the U.S. It is not a place for just one visit. There is a steady stream of exhibits, lectures and events. Some programs are there for an evening or a day, and the upcoming exhibit, “At Your Service,” opens March 14 and runs through Labor Day. The Clemenses were very fond of their servants, and the exhibit offers an interesting window into life as a servant in the mansion on Farmington Avenue in Hartford.

Information about everything concerning the Mark Twain House and Museum can be found online at www.marktwainhouse.org.


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