“Gateway To The Majors”

“Within the ball park, time moves differently, marked by no clock except the events of the game. This is the unique, unchangeable feature of baseball and perhaps explains why this sport, for all the enormous changes it has undergone … remains somehow rustic, unviolent, and introspective. …

“Baseball’s time is seamless and invisible, a bubble within which players move at exactly the same pace and rhythms as all their predecessors.” 

~ Roger Angell

Baseball keeps me close.

It keeps me close to my dad who didn’t even really like baseball, but it keeps me there nevertheless whenever I hear Vin Scully’s voice (less often now) or see a Dodger’s logo. Even though my dad’s been gone for years.

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“Charlottesville Is No Spot For A Writer Of Baseball.”

Charlottesville is no spot for a writer of baseball Washington Post 3 13 1912

Washington Post, 1912

Here’s what baseball writers will tell you about spring training in Charlottesville, Virginia.

It snows and hails and thunders and pours rain and gusts wind and freezes and scorches. There are plenty of lousy days for baseball and very few good ones.

Those writers, roaming around Charlottesville more than 100 years ago, won’t tell you much about the baseball they saw, but they’ll give you an earful about the rotten weather.

During Virginia’s hybrid time of still-winter-not-yet-spring – spwinter! – there’s no telling what any day will bring.

snowcat

March 2016. © The Baseball Bloggess

Snow.

March weather in Charlottesville is like a grab bag at the dollar store – you’ll get something for your dollar, but you’ll probably look at it and think, “Really? I paid a dollar for this?”

So why did so many teams from 1892 to 1916 come to Charlottesville for spring training? Were they nuts? Or were the grumpy old baseball writers just annoyed that they had to spend a month in a place which was often snowy and always alcohol-free?

Today, baseball’s spring training is held in Arizona and Florida, more accommodating and predictable climates, and where the only things you have to worry about are swarms of bees and the Zika virus.

But, Charlottesville? “More fickle weather could not be found in any part of the globe,” one Washington Post reporter lamented in 1914 after an early March snowfall.

Who would choose Charlottesville for spring training?

These teams …

In 1894, the Baltimore Orioles came through Charlottesville as part of a nomadic spring training tour through the south and took both games against the University of Virginia. The Orioles, then part of the National League, went on to win the pennant. They were a powerhouse, those Orioles. Yup, chew on that O’s fans. A powerhouse.

In 1901, the Boston Red Sox (then called the Americans) spent spring training in Charlottesville. It was the Sox’ first season and, history will show that the first game ever played by the Red Sox, the first ball they ever hit, and the first run they ever scored, happened in Charlottesville.

There were a few others, but it was the Washington Nationals that spent the most springs in Charlottesville. They were officially the Washington Senators, but everyone called them the Nationals and so should you.  (Although today we call them the Minnesota Twins.)

The Nats “springed” in Charlottesville in 1905 and ‘06 and then again, under manager Clark Griffith, from 1911 through 1916.

Griffith (third from the right) and his Nationals in Charlottesville. March 1915.

Griffith, today enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame, told reporters each season that his choice of Charlottesville over warmer locales was purely strategic.

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Free Hot Chocolate. Free Baseball.

“Baseball is the most perfect of games, solid, true, pure, and precious as diamonds. If only life were so simple. Within the baselines anything can happen. Tides can reverse; oceans can open. That’s why they say, ‘the game is never over until the last man is out.’ … Anything is possible in this gentle, flawless, loving game.” ― W.P. Kinsella, Shoeless Joe

First, let’s get to the important things. The temperature during the last two games at Davenport Field, home of the University of Virginia Cavaliers (or, the NCAA National Champion UVA Cavaliers if you go for things like that) has been below 45.

And, you know what that means …

hot chocolate2

Free hot chocolate!

The NCAA champions are playing the Monmouth Hawks this weekend.

I vaguely know where Monmouth is (somewhere New Jersey-ish).

If you visit Monmouth’s Wikipedia page … which you can do here … it will kindly request that you fill in the blanks and tell it something – anything – about this team.

I can tell you only that they seem to have a good time when they play – they’re a joyful bunch – and that goes a long way with me.

UVA won on Friday night, 4-2, in unspectacular fashion. The highlight of the game was that it took my feet, which were double-socked, nearly one full hour to thaw out. They were completely numb.

It was brutally cold – it had snowed that morning – and my main take-away from the game is that I’m certain I wouldn’t last a week in a world without central heat.

snowcat

Friday morning. Snow on the cat.

Let’s skip to Saturday. Still cold.

hot chocolate1

More hot chocolate!

Daniel Lynch Starting Pitcher

Daniel Lynch, Saturday Starter.

Behind string-beany, first-year pitcher Daniel Lynch, the Hoos jumped out to a 7-0 lead in the 2nd in one of those they-batted-around innings – six singles, one double, two sacrifice bunts – that messes up your scorecard in a totally-worth-it sort of way.

They love to bunt, these fellas.

Matt Thaiss

Matt Thaiss, Third Year, Catcher/1B/DH. 2-for-5 on Saturday, 1 Run, 1 RBI

“Our small ball is what makes us an offense,” Thaiss, who homered on Friday night, told The Daily Progress. “We always talk about not having a good hitting team, but having a great offense. That’s what we preach here. We practice bunting just as much as we do hitting.”

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#1: Home Sweet Home ~ Spring Training in Charlottesville, VA

In baseball – as in life – the goal is to come home.

Spring Training ended Saturday.  Opening Day is (officially) Monday.

Hope Springs Eternal.

I have one spot left on my top five Spring Training series.

And, I come home to Charlottesville, Virginia.

It isn’t home. Not exactly. But, it’s just a few minutes up the road and that’s close enough.

Charlottesville isn’t the most amazing or the most interesting or the most historic Spring Training location.

No Babe Ruth. No Jackie Robinson. No island, no dance hall.

Charlottesville is my #1 Spring Training place, not because of what happened here, but because it’s home. And, every home should have somewhere to warm up your baseball bones.

Between 1890 and 1916, many teams spent Spring Training in Charlottesville.

The Boston Reds in the 1890s. The Boston Beaneaters (today, the Atlanta Braves). The young Boston Red Sox. The Washington Senators (who had officially changed their name to the Nationals in 1901, but who everyone still called the Senators, until the team just gave up and changed it back in the 1950s. So really, call them whatever you like here).

The Washington Post

The Washington Post

Teams unpacked at Wright’s Hotel near the train station (it was later the Clermont and is now the Starr Hill Building). Or, they rented local fraternity houses.

They trained on cold and snowy days – and there were plenty of them in March – indoors at Fayerweather Gymnasium (now home to the University of Virginia Department of Art). It was a state-of-the-art facility with one of the longest indoor tracks in the country.

They played at UVa’s Lambeth Field, which one reporter at the time called “the best college field.” (It’s still in use today for intramural sports).

Lambeth Field, Charlottesville. Early 20th-century. Photo Courtesy of UVa Small Special Collections Library

Lambeth Field, Charlottesville. Early 20th-century. Photo Courtesy of UVa Small Special Collections Library

Walter “Big Train” Johnson, one of the greatest pitchers to ever play the game, spent a couple Spring Trainings there as a National/Senator. (How good was he? He would win more than 30 games a season – twice – and consistently had an ERA around a sinful 1.50. Yeh, The Big Train was good.)

Teams jogged through Charlottesville as part of their training. They played games against UVa’s team. They took day trips to Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello, and rode the trolley to Fry’s Springs resort, known for its healing mineral baths and “Wonderland” amusement park.

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