Thank You, Dr. King


Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. and baseball great Jackie Robinson met with Governor Edward T. Breathitt in March, 1964 to urge passage of a civil rights bill in Kentucky.
Jackie Robinson, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Kentucky Governor Edward T. Breathitt, 1964 (Source:  Jim Curtis photograph collection at the University of Kentucky)
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

 

~ Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from the Birmingham jail, April 16, 1963

 

 

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Abandoned Before It Was Empty


Screenshot-2017-10-23 Instagram post by Andy Saavedra • Oct 20, 2017 at 1 35pm UTC
This photo doesn’t quite capture the peeling paint and ugly green fence around the stadium, nor does it show the overgrown parking lots all around RFK Stadium in Washington, DC.

I drive past RFK Stadium nearly every day on the way to my day job (except for those days I decide to take the route that goes by Nats Park instead). It always makes me sad to see the once proud stadium in front of me with its peeling paint and overgrown parking lots. I feel as though its been calling out for help for quite some time now.

On Sunday, my friends and I made a pilgrimage to say our goodbyes to the beautiful, circular stadium that once was home to the Washington Senators, the Washington Nationals, and other teams of the Nation’s Capitol. Here are some of the appalling things we saw on the inside:

The first thing I noticed was weird stuff hanging off of the ceiling – is this peeling paint? weird dust bunnies? This was apparent before we even entered the stadium.

 

Once inside, the concrete and metal walkways immediately took me back to some of my favorite stadiums – like Memorial Stadium in Baltimore and Municipal Stadium in Cleveland – stadiums that no one else seemed to appreciate much. Even the then-state-of-the-art video screen on the concourse was pretty darn cool.

 

The peeling paint and nearly rotting seats, however, were quite appalling.

 

And the abandoned media suite – or whatever that was way up there – was just downright creepy.

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But perhaps saddest of all, were the dugouts left over from the stadium’s baseball days – no longer used for their original purpose, but still proud of their history.

 

 

The conspiracy theorist in me naturally assumes this was all done on purpose: “If You Don’t Fix It, They Won’t Come.” In other words, don’t bother with upkeep, because folks want a fancy new stadium anyway and the sooner the old one falls apart, the sooner we can have a new one. But even if its big and outdated, its still a perfectly good stadium. Its not the stadium’s fault that its been treated rather shabbily since the Washington Nationals moved out.

As I’ve said before, there’s nothing sadder than an abandoned ballpark. Whatever the reasons for its virtual abandonment before it ceased to be used, my heart aches for RFK Stadium, whom I will always miss.

~ baseballrebecca

 

 

 

Goodbye, RFK Stadium


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Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium in Washington, DC, ca. 1988 (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)
On Sunday, we said goodbye to Washington, D.C.’s RFK Stadium. For now, it’s future is unclear, but at least for the next year or so it will still house the practice fields of the D.C. United soccer team, who will be moving to their shiny new soccer-only stadium next year.

It’s always hard to say goodbye – especially to a baseball stadium. Of course, baseball hasn’t been played there in a while, but I will always remember it for the baseball games and rock concerts I attended there in my youth.

RFK opened on October 7, 1961. It was home to the Washington Senators from 1962 to 1971, and the Washington Nationals from 2005 to 2007. (And other sports that aren’t nearly as important as baseball.) It also hosted the occasional pre-season exhibition game in the 1980s and 1990s (before the Nationals came to town), as well as Congressional Baseball games. Sadly, I only ever saw one Nats game there before they moved across town to Nats Park.

This past week, several media outlets published sentimental send-offs for our beloved RFK Stadium. Below are links to just a few:

  • Baseball Digest, “End of an Era at RFK Stadium”
  • WTOP, “‘Best Day Ever’: Baseball’s best moments at RFK from the Senators to the Nats”
  • Cut4, “Looking back at five great baseball moments at RFK Stadium”
  • The Washington Post, “At beer-soaked, grimy old RFK Stadium, one last hurrah”

Speaking of grimy and old, tomorrow I’ll share pictures of just how poorly the stadium has been treated over the past few years.

~ baseballrebecca

 

Rest in Peace, Felo


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Rafael “Felo” Ramirez passed away yesterday at the age of 94. He was the Spanish-language radio announcer for the Miami Marlins. But he was much more than that.

Ramirez was born in Bayamo, Cuba, on June 22, 1923. Growing up in Cuba he played second base for a local team. As the story goes, one day he began calling plays with a friend’s microphone. And the rest was history.

According to the Miami Herald, Ramirez began his professional radio career at Radio Salas in Havana in 1945, where he worked for 9 years. Later he became a broadcaster in Venezuela, Puerto Rico, and Mexico. In fact, Ramirez was involved in more than 40 Caribbean World Series. He also was a boxing expert and called many professional boxing matches.

In 2001, the Baseball Hall of Fame honored Ramirez with the Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasting and in 2003 he was inducted in to the Caribbean Baseball Hall of Fame. Venezuela’s Magallanes Navigators honored him in 2012 for his more than 60 years as a sports announcer.

Earlier this year, I posted a link to an oral history with Ramirez. I only wish I’d had more time to listen to him call ball games.

Thanks for sharing baseball with us, Felo!

~ baseballrebecca

Baseball in Venezuela, Part 1


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Estadio Universitario de Caracas, photo by Hector Yanez via Wikipedia

As promised last week, I want to look more closely at issues in Venezuela, especially as they intersect with baseball. One of the basic ideas of Sport Sociology and Baseball Sociology is that sport is a microcosm of life – thus, sport can both reflect what’s going on in society as well as become a part of it. Baseball is no exception.

Part 1 of this series will provide a brief history of baseball in Venezuela; Part 2 will look at some of the recent political and economic issues in Venezuela; and Part 3 will bring us back to the current impact of those events on baseball. While I am not an expert on Venezuela or Venezuelan baseball, I can provide a brief overview of the issues to help us be better informed. I welcome comments from those who are experts in these issues.

According to Baseball Reference, baseball was introduced to Venezuela in the 1890s by Venezuelan students who had studied at U.S. colleges. Over the next few decades baseball grew in popularity and eventually professional teams developed. In 1927, the Federación Venezolana de Béisbol was founded, followed by the Venezuelan Professional Baseball League in 1945. The first major leaguer from Venezuela was Alejandro Carrasquel, who debuted with the Washington Senators on April 23, 1939. Since then, more than 200 Venezuelans have played Major League Baseball. Luis Aparicio was the first Venezuelan to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

The Venezuela national baseball team participated in a variety of international events in the first half of the 20th century, making its first international appearance at the Central American Games in 1938 (where the took 4th place). Baseball became even more popular in Venezuela when it won the Amateur World Series (later called the Baseball World Cup) in 1941, after placing 4th in 1940. Between 1940 and 1970, Venezuela won a total of 9 medals at the World Cup: 3 gold, 2 silver, and 4 bronze. Venezuela also won gold at the 1954 Central American and Caribbean Games and the 1959 Pan American Games.

Venezuela won the Caribbean Series championship in 1970, after the competition was re-established (it has been dissolved in 1960 after the Cuban Revolution), and captured the championship six more times between 1979 and 2009. In 2009, Venezuela took third place at the World Baseball Classic.

In short, there is a rich baseball history in Venezuela, and Venezuelans love their national pastime. MLB loved Venezuelan baseball, too, at least until recently. Later this week, we’ll look at the economic and political situation in Venezuela…

~ baseballrebecca

 

Still Haunted by the Huntsville Stars


9923381-largeYesterday, I wrote of my adventures looking for remnants of the Huntsville Stars. I wondered why the team left town after 30 years? Not enough of a fan base? A bad location for the stadium? A quick bit of research turned up few clues, except an interesting article from September 2015 posted on the WHNT-19 website. In the article, the author lamented the loss of the team, which had just won the league championship as the Biloxi Shuckers against the Chattanooga Lookouts, both of which were enjoying new ballparks:

Joe W. Davis Stadium is all full of empty. It’s home to old memories, dust and, probably, the family of skunks that long-ago inspired the Huntsville Stars’ costumed mascot. And what has happened stinks.

Baseball was a rousing success in Huntsville during its three decades. Then it became an abysmal failure. The blame? Lousy, apathetic ownership. An out-dated, bad stadium. An area notoriously fickle when it comes to spectator sports. It’d take a documentary, not a commentary, to dive into all the reasons.

I don’t know what baseball was like in Huntsville, but I’m sure it was great. After all, it was baseball. Strangely, I’d always wanted to attend a Huntsville Stars game – ever since I was doing research on the minors in the 1990s and learned of it. How cool that it was named in honor of the city’s space flight heritage (Huntsville is home to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and home to the famed Space Camp). It made me sad to see the stadium abandoned. In fact, even their website was abandoned – when you Google “Huntsville Stars,” the first website on the list is “The Official Site of The Huntsville Stars” – frozen in time from 2014. It’s just a little sad. And creepy.

As I mentioned yesterday, the team won the league championship title in three separate years, and was division champs 8 times. Here are just a few players who played in Huntsville: J.J. Hardy, Mike Bordick, Nelson Cruz, Tony Gwynn, Jr., Jose Canseco, Miguel Tejada, Jason Giambi, Ryan Braun, Lorenzo Cain, Yovani Gallardo, Prince Fielder, and Jonathan Lucroy.

I want to know more about this team and this place – and not just because a bunch of Orioles once played here. I’ll ask around while I’m in town. Someday, I’ll get around to doing more research on baseball in Alabama, especially in Huntsville.

~ baseballrebecca

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Wishing Upon a Huntsville Star


IMG_0024There’s nothing sadder than an abandoned ballpark. Whenever I visit a new city, the first thing I do is check out its baseball scene – past and present. Unfortunately, I arrived in Huntsville, AL, three years too late to see the Huntsville Stars.

The Stars were a Southern League (AA) team from 1985 to 2014, affiliated first with the Oakland A’s (1985 to 1998), then with the Milwaukee Brewers. They won the league championship in 1985, 1994, and 2001, and division titles in five additional years. Unfortunately for Huntsville, the team moved to Biloxi, MS, after the 2014 season. They are currently known as the Biloxi Shuckers.

IMG_0019The first thing I did once I arrived in Huntsville was type in “Huntsville Stars” in Google. Despite telling me they were “permanently closed,” Google still gave me directions to Joe W. Davis Stadium. I missed my turn and ended up in the parking lot of a movie theater, but that’s when I noticed a large, hulking structure through the fence. It looked eerily abandoned. I stopped the car and took a closer look. It was a concrete building – shaped vaguely like a baseball stadium. I could almost make out the seating area and the stadium lights. That had to be it!

I turned around, found the correct road, and drove slowly toward the stadium. It was like something out of the past. Even though the stadIMG_0018ium has only been closed for two seasons, it looked old and abandoned. Chain link fence surrounded it, though I could still see the back of the scoreboard in the outfield – and two large signs in the shape of a star on either side of it. I’d definitely reached my destination.

I circled the stadium, taking it all in. Several “No Trespassing” signs were posted along the chain link fence. The box office was sadly silent. I turned the corner and caught a glimpse of the field. I parked and walked closer, feeling as if I were disturbing a sacred resting place. As I neared the fence, I could see the outfield scoreboard again. Directly in front of me on the concourse was a sign that said “Bat Boys.” I got back into the car and drove around to the other side of the outfield, parked again, and walked as close as I dared to the dear, departed stadium. From this vantage point I could see more of the field and the seating area.

Before ghosts appeared on the field à la “Field of Dreams,” I scampered back to the safety of my rental car. I may have been too late for the Huntsville Stars, yet, I felt like they were somehow still there.

~ baseballrebecca

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