This week, final touches are being made on the installation of the Danbury Museum & Historical Society summer/fall 2012 exhibit, ‘Covering All the Bases: A Pictorial History of Danbury Baseball.’ On Saturday, June 9th at 10am it will officially open to the public and will be on display through October 26th. There is a full day of activities planned; including a Vintage Base Ball game at the Danbury Westerners Field at Rogers Park at 1:00 p.m. when The Newtown Sandy Hooks face The Westfield Wheelmen in authentic uniforms for a game played using 1886 rules of the game. We’re also grateful to The Danbury Westerners for hosting ‘Danbury Museum Night’ during their home game vs. The Adams Steeplecats beginning at 6:30pm.
When the museum first started thinking about this year’s exhibit, I was excited about unearthing materials in our archives that would spotlight some of our local baseball history. The possibility of discovering the little things; the untold stories and tidbits of information sent me on a quest. You see, I’ve always been a fan of the game.
Finding an early mention of the game in an 1867 issue of The Danbury Times - our local newspaper at the time – was jaw dropping. In the 1870s, the sport was so popular it made front page news everyday during the season. One of the earliest town directories in our collection, from 1874, includes a listing for the Aetna Base Ball Club with Wallace Curtiss named as the Captain of Nine.
Reading about Danbury’s ‘colored teams’ and finding out that The Cuban Giants, the first professional black team, regularly played against our Danbury ball club was a thrill. There is even a photograph of an African American team in the Library of Congress, taken in Danbury in the 1880s. It is credited to E.D. Ritton, one of Danbury’s first commercial photographers on Main Street.
Danbury native son, Charles Ives, was a huge fan of baseball and in 1889 he pitched for ‘The Alerts.’ When he was a boy, he disliked being called a piano player by his peers. When much ado was made about his music and he was asked what he liked to play, he would retort: “Shortstop!” and his love of the game is clearly reflected in his music.
Many early Danbury players went on to play in the minor and major leagues. Edward Jaykill Phelps began his career in Danbury in 1896 . An article appearing in the Daily Illinois in 1909 explained, “ Until 1896 was unknown as a ball player. Then he was first heard of in Danbury, a little Connecticut hamlet that boasted a ball club. Phelps was the catcher of the village prides and the hero of the small boys of that far eastern town.”
Phelps went on to play for a number of major league teams including The Cincinnati Reds, The St. Louis Cardinals and The Brooklyn Dodgers. During the 1903 World Series, while serving as catcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Phelps managed to get a hit off the legendary Boston Red Sox pitcher Cy Young.
Hometown boy, Kenneth Danforth Smith, served as bat boy in 1912 for the Hatters, Danbury’s New York-New Jersey minor league team. In 1920, he was the manager of the Danbury High School team. Smith took a job in 1925 as a baseball writer for the New York Graphic and worked for the New York Mirror from 1941-1963. He became a famed sportswriter and covered thirty-eight World Series; travelling with the New York Giants and The New York Yankees between 1927 and 1963. When the Mirror folded in 1963, he was appointed Director of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
Vintage images and other memorabilia from our archives compliment a stunning national and local timeline of events. Team photos include hatters, policemen, firemen, YMCA players and high school students. Early newspaper articles going back to the 1860s reflect the excitement generated by the game of baseball.
Visitors are sure to be educated and entertained by our city’s rich baseball history. I truly hope you’ll have an opportunity to stop by and enjoy our exhibit. I also hope you’ll visit our website and check our ‘Calendar of Events’. There will be many programs and special events throughout the summer that celebrate baseball at http://danburymuseum.org/danburymuseum/Home.html
Danbury’s historic love of the game runs deep, and, as our noteworthy neighbor, Mark Twain once said at a speech given at Delmonico’s on April 8, 1889: “Baseball…the very symbol, the outward and visible expression of the drive, and push, and rush and struggle of the raging, tearing, booming nineteenth century.”