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COMMUNITY VOICE

TinCaps open season Thursday in a city steeped in baseball tradition

Tuesday, April 1, 2014 - 12:01 am

Opening day for baseball is this week, at least for the cold cities of the continental United States (the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks already played several games in Australia). Opening day in Fort Wayne actually is laden with historic importance.

The first professional league baseball game (I would argue “major league baseball,” but that is disputed) was played in our city May 4, 1871. The great pitcher Bobby Matthews, who should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame, pitched the first shutout in professional baseball history, and Hall of Famer Deacon White got the first hit in history. (He was called Deacon because he didn't drink or smoke. He also believed the world was flat.) In fact, everything done that day was a baseball first.

Opening day did not have the hoopla associated with it as it does today. President U.S. Grant did not come to Fort Wayne to throw out the first ball. Society of American Baseball Researchers historians Bill Griggs and Bob Gregory have done much to correct the abysmal historic “official” record of this event where Fort Wayne is recognized as the “first” in America's pastime.

Hopefully, we can even get our own historic markers corrected (wrong places with wrong information).

SABR now has a Fort Wayne chapter headed by Gregory (who, as a member of the Hall of Fame Old-Timers selection committee, played a key role in the selection of Deacon White in 2013). On at 10 a.m. April 26 at the downtown Allen County Public Library there will be an open meeting of our local SABR chapter with several baseball research presentations.

Historically it has been claimed that the Washington Olympics were to host the Boston Red Stockings in the first game but it was rained out. Since the Kekionga Base Ball Club of Fort Wayne played the Cleveland Forest City team that same day, even that historic statement is debatable. In 1871 there were not standard times in America (the time varied even within cities), and the traditional starting times for Washington games seemed to be a bit later in the day, so who really knows which game would have been first, rain or not. Regardless, the Washington game was rained out.

Not that “schedules” were exactly chiseled in stone anyway. Griggs' research found this gem in the Fort Wayne Gazette of April 19, 1871: They reported that the Cleveland Forest City team secretary had informed the Kekiongas that they would be in Fort Wayne between May 1 and May 10. So our historic first was an accident. Of course, so was the Battle of Gettysburg.

Thursday our own TinCaps open the 2014 baseball season in Fort Wayne in what is nationally considered the best ballpark in all of minor league baseball.

And, in the grand beer tradition of baseball in German-dominated cities, it is Thirsty Thursday (cheap beer). For a sport played at Coors Field and Busch Stadium, not to mention the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park, it seems appropriate.

Mark Souder is a former 3rd District congressman.