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Baseball in the Berkshires: An exhibit at Old Town Hall, April 18–21

For the longest time, everyone thought Cooperstown, N.Y., was the birthplace of baseball. It was not.

West Stockbridge — The West Stockbridge Historical Society is holding an eventful exhibit at Old Town Hall, April 18 through 21, bearing the succinct title “Baseball in the Berkshires: Not Your Ordinary Teams — The Unknown Story of Baseball in the Berkshires — an Exhibit of the History of Black Baseball and Women’s Baseball in Berkshire County.”

The Berkshire hills are home to one of the oldest ballparks in the country still in use (and now appearing on the National Register of Historic Places): Pittsfield’s Wahconah Park. The county has produced 38 major league players, two of whom were inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. For the longest time, everyone thought Cooperstown, N.Y., was the 1839 birthplace of baseball. But a discovery by former major league pitcher Jim Bouton proved otherwise. “By 1791,” he told sports writer Doug Miller in 2005, “baseball was already a nuisance in Pittsfield.”

Bouton’s discovery was a Pittsfield bylaw that read, “For the Preservation of the Windows in the New Meeting House … no Person or Inhabitant of said town, shall be permitted to play at any game called Wicket, Cricket, Baseball, Bat Ball, Football, Cat, Fives or any other game or games with balls, within the Distance of Eighty Yards from said Meeting House.”

That makes Pittsfield the birthplace of baseball junkydom. To wit, former Pittsfield Mayor James Ruberto once famously quipped, “I’m a baseball junkie … I think this whole town is full of baseball junkies.”

In an interview with Doug Miller, Ruberto elaborated:

The fact that Pittsfield has the earliest recorded mention of baseball really speaks to the history of baseball … It was a time when society was changing. It was the beginning of recreation, a break from the Calvinistic belief that all a person should do is work all day. People in Pittsfield and all around here, most likely, thought it better to get together in clubs and play a sportsmanlike game.

Here is the schedule of events for April 18–21 at Old Town Hall in West Stockbridge:

Thursday, April 18
5–8 p.m. — Exhibit Preview

Friday, April 19
5–8 p.m. — Exhibit Open and Reception
6:30–7:30 p.m. — “The History of Black Baseball and Women’s Baseball in Berkshire County”
Presented by Larry Moore (director of Baseball in the Berkshires)
With Special Guests: Former Pittsfield Cub player Bryan House and Former Minor Leaguer player Joe Bateman

Saturday, April 20
Exhibit Open 12–4 p.m. and a presentation on “Innovation in Baseball — What’s New?” (appropriate for all ages)

Sunday, April 21
Exhibit Open 12–4 p.m. with a presentation on “Tools of the Trade — the History of Baseball Equipment” (appropriate for all ages)

For more information, visit the West Stockbridge Historical Society’s website.

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