Saratoga County

Museum’s exhibit to show baseball history

The hometown of Abner Doubleday was a baseball town in the 1930s and 1940s, but so was virtually eve

The hometown of Abner Doubleday was a baseball town in the 1930s and 1940s, but so was virtually every small town in America.

A new exhibit opening July 1 at Brookside Museum on Charlton Street will be about remembering the community baseball leagues of that era.

So will a baseball game, the Abner Doubleday Classic, to be played next month between Ballston Spa and Saratoga Springs as a benefit for the museum.

The village was the birthplace of Abner Doubleday, the Civil War general who was for decades given credit for inventing the national pastime in Cooperstown.

The story that the game so well-refined by the Yankees and Red Sox was invented by a 20-year-old West Point cadet in a Cooperstown cow pasture is now seen by all serious scholars as a myth. But it has created an aura of baseball sentiment that has permeated Ballston Spa.

“I think even outside Ballston Spa, people associate Ballston Spa with baseball,” said Brookside Executive Director Joy Houle.

The museum, home of the Saratoga County Historical Society’s collections, will open its baseball exhibit, “100 Years of Baseball 1850-1950,” on Friday, July 1. It will remain up until November.

The exhibit is actually a remounting of an exhibition that was popular at the museum when it was first shown in 1999-2000.

The exhibit included displays and artifacts like bats, gloves and uniforms from the community leagues in which many young men played in the 1930s, 1940s and the 1950s.

“As a museum curator, it was one of my favorite experiences, just getting to meet some of the old-timers and hear their experiences,” said Chris Valosin, who assembled the exhibit for Brookside and is now a curator at the Saratoga National Historical Park in Stillwater.

Community baseball leagues were common across the country in that era, Valosin said, so the exhibit evoked a lot of nostalgia and proved popular.

“It surprised me there was such a lot of nostalgia for small-town baseball,” she said.

The museum exhibit also includes a display on Ira Thomas, the Ballston Spa native who was a major league catcher from 1907 to 1916. He was the first player ever to get a pinch hit in a World Series game, while playing for the Detroit Tigers on Oct. 10, 1908.

Abner Doubleday was born in Ballston Spa in 1819 in a house that still stands at Washington and Fenwick streets. His family moved to Auburn shortly afterward, and his father served in Congress in that area.

Doubleday became a hero at the beginning of the Civil War, an artillery officer who claimed to have fired the first cannon shot in the Union defense of Fort Sumpter. He rose quickly to the rank of general and performed a key command role early in the fighting at the Battle of Gettysburg.

It was the Mills Commission in 1905, assigned by Major League Baseball to establish the origins of the game and under pressure to find an American origin, that credited Doubleday with inventing baseball in Cooperstown. Chairman Abraham Mills, president of the National League, was a Civil War veteran who had served with Doubleday, who had died in 1893.

In Ballston Spa, the youth league fields off Malta Avenue are named for Doubleday, and his name is worked into the titles of several businesses.

“We in the community have a great connection to Abner Doubleday,” Houle said.

To promote the new exhibit and raise funds, Brookside is organizing the Abner Doubleday Classic, a community game to be played Sunday, July 10, at Doubleday Field on Malta Avenue.

The plan is to have players from Ballston Spa and Saratoga Springs re-create an old-time community rivalry. Houle said they’re still in the process of selecting players.

Proceeds from concessions, and a reception following the game, will support the educational programs put on for thousands of youth each year by Brookside Museum.

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