Sunday, April 4, 2010

23. Alexander Cartwright

Today is Opening Day. Unlike New Years Day or my birthday, I always look upon the first day of the baseball season as my mark of another year gone by and the hopeful beginning of another. This past year, or season, had been a tough one, the big crushing blow being the sudden death of my Father in September. Today is a day that had a special meaning for my father and I, the beginning of months of friendly banter about how our favorite teams are doing, how much we both hated the Yankees and who we thought would go all the way. But this year I am left alone on this day, and I face a long season without my best friend. What I wouldn't give for one more catch with my Pop or one more minor league New Jersey Cardinals afternoon game or just one more quick phone call to talk about last night's game. But today is Opening Day, the beginning of a new year, one that always brings the possibility of great things, where it matters only what you do this season, where past failures and disappointments are forgotten and the future is up to you.

So today, Opening day, I bring you the man who probably did more than anyone else in making baseball the great game it is today. Although most think of baseball as a sport played out in the country in idyllic settings, the game as we know it actually came from the crowded streets of Lower Manhattan. Back in the 1830's and 40's successful businessmen who had always lived above or behind their businesses began to move away from their shops into the less crowded suburbs and the young men who worked for them as apprentices and clerks now had many free and unsupervised hours of leisure time at their disposal. Many joined volunteer fire companies that served the dual purpose of serving the community and providing a fashionable club environment. It was while a member of The Knickerbocker Fire Company that Alexander Cartwright learned the game of base-ball.

When he could no longer find enough open space for his team to play in Manhattan, bank clerk and volunteer fireman Alexander Cartwright formed The New York Knickerbocker Base-Ball Club. The exclusive club charged a $5 initiation fee with annual dues of $2, the proceeds going towards the rental of Elysian Fields, a grassy tree-lined park across the Hudson River in Hoboken, N.J. Cartwright had a keen interest in writing down a set of universally accepted rules for a game that had many different incarnations depending on where it was played. The distance between bases, number of fielders and most importantly batters need to be tagged out and not simply hit with the ball. The first real game of baseball was played at Elysian Fields in 1846 and Cartwright left New York in 1849 to seek his fortune in California and spread the game where ever he stopped including his final home, Hawaii.

Happy Opening Day to everyone, and I wish you all the best of seasons!



2 comments:

  1. Great post ! I love the real history of the game.In 2007 we (wife and two sons) spent a whole week in Cooperstown including one morning in the library.

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  2. Happy opening day, Gary C. I'm looking forward to the next time we can crack open some swill beer in the cheap seats and call out the opposition as the bums they are.

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