May 4, 2015-The travels of The Hall Ball have now taken me to the four corners of the United States. I’ve just returned from a trip that began in Phoenix two weeks ago. From there I cut over to San Diego before traveling up the entirety of the West Coast, with a pit stop in Idaho along the way. Ostensibly the journey ended in Seattle, although there was also an eight-hour layover in Minneapolis that led to one more photo. Just reading the itinerary is exhausting.
Along the way I was able to reconnect with friends, old and new. I received gracious hospitality and saw a landscape that I knew existed, but had never experienced. From the deserts of Arizona to the snow capped mountains of Washington, it was an odyssey that represented such a fascinating cross-section of America. Conservative and Liberal; urban and rural; black, brown, white, red and yellow.
Each town visited along the way has a story, including Eagleville, California, which is not so much a town as it is a “census-designated place.” Eagleville, population 51 souls, provided the single most stunning view of any cemetery I have ever visited anywhere on this earth. Most of the stories from these places are very different, even when the actual locations are not all that far apart. No one would ever confuse San Diego for Los Angeles, though they are only separated by two hours.
However, there was one piece of Americana that seemed to be there no matter where I was. That thing is, predictably, baseball. I know. I was on a baseball pilgrimage, so that is somewhat to be expected. But, there were times in which baseball was not on the itinerary and yet, there it was.
Yes, some of these insights were planned, but even those turned out to be instructive. My visit to the Alcor Life Extension Foundation in Scottsdale, location of the cryogenically preserved Ted Williams, taught me that there are only two other functioning organizations in the world that do what they do. One is in Michigan and the other is in Russia, although the existence of the final one is apparently fairly precarious. That means that the United States is the only place on the earth where one can have their body frozen with the intention of reanimation.
It is doubtful many of the students that walk around Point Loma Nazarene University know of the impact that Albert Goodwill Spalding had on the game. The sport’s first magnate, and an avid Theosophist, Spalding built an estate in this community just outside of San Diego. Now a college, it serves the musicians, scientists and theologians of the future. The story of the Theosophist’s and their influence on the history of baseball is covered thoroughly in John Thorn’s Baseball in the Garden of Eden. Let’s just say that without the obscure cult, it is unlikely that anyone who wasn’t versed in the Civil War would know who Abner Doubleday was. Spalding’s house, with its hand carved woodwork, serves as the office of the University President today.
But these are two grand, scheduled examples of how the history of baseball is woven into the story of America. There were also the unplanned moments. A leisurely stroll through Golden Gate Park revealed the statue below. Known alternately as “The Baseball Player,” “Ball Player,” or “The National Game,” the sculpture was created by Californian Douglas Tilden and, I would later learn, is one of John Thorn’s favorites. According to Thorn, the bronze was donated to the city by Southern Pacific Railroad mogul William E. Brown and placed in the park in 1891.
At Pier 39, also in San Francisco, a hot dog stand.
A baseball trophy at the restaurant in Alturas.
The diamond in Payette, Idaho, 450 miles from the nearest major league city. Paid for by the Killebrew family, it is designed to serve special needs children.
The fatheads in the Homestead Restaurant in Cle Elum, Washington.
That doesn’t even begin to touch on the little league games we passed. Or, the restaurants we shared with kids still wearing uniforms as their parents took them out for a victory (or consolation) dinner. Or, the crumbling hull of Candlestick Park. Or, the three different active major league parks where I witnessed a game. Or, the countless conversations with waitresses and cemetery workers, each of whom make some personal connection to the game when I tell them about the project. Because baseball is everywhere.
I know it sounds trite. Baseball has a way of doing that. It is too perfect a metaphor. But, that doesn’t prevent the truth of the idea. The game has been a part of our history for so long that one needn’t look far to see evidence of it, even if they don’t realize it. Each new leg of the journey has taught me something more about the sport and its impact on the places it touches, whether that’s California or Cuba.
At this point, I have traveled to twenty-three states, one US Territory and one foreign nation to photograph 258 of the 310 members of The Hall. There are nine states left, most with no more than two or three graves within them. Missouri is the last fat state, with thirteen Hall of Famers spending eternity there. I am certain as I travel through those final nine states, I will continue to learn about the people and places that make up our history. And I know that even when I’m not looking for it, baseball will be there.