Tonawanda News — This is some people’s idea of a perfect evening. Put a group of informed, passionate and thoughtful lovers of the game of baseball together in a ballpark, and just listen to the conversation.
The Luke Easter chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research convened for its first meeting recently — the way Trekkies and record collectors and cat fanciers get together — but this was serious. This was about baseball.
The Society, or SABR, organized in 1971, supports the study of baseball history and almost parenthetically has revolutionized the sport through innovations in statistical analysis. Those radical, number-crunching theories about players’ records, observed in the 2003 book (and 2011 film) “Moneyball,” are examples, and they came from this non-profit organization of hardcore baseball enthusiasts.
SABR sponsors conventions and encourages members in geographic proximity to one another to get together and talk baseball. Hence, the Luke Easter chapter, for Buffalo and Rochester members (and named in honor of the big first baseman who played for both the Buffalo Bisons and the Rochester Red Wings after his Negro League and major league baseball careers ended).
The chapter, organized in several weeks by Ryan Brecker of Rochester using the Delphi method of problem-solving (i.e., send out emails to bat opinions around until consensus is reached on ideas), had its first meeting at a Batavia Muckdogs (they of the low-minor New York-Penn League) game in the bleachers of Dwyer Stadium. Of 55 SABR members in Western New York, 14 attended, and the non-stop discourse was scholarly, witty and exceptional.
Brecker, 34, is an emergency room physician and co-founder of the Rochester Baseball Historical Society (Rochester’s historical development of baseball, like that of the city, predates that of Buffalo).
All he wanted to do is “round up some people,” he said. He has attended SABR’s national conventions (last year in Minneapolis) and wants to get these lovers of the game together on more-or-less a quarterly basis.
Kenmore’s Mike Dugan, 65, attended as well. A retiree from the military and the Post Office, Dugan is on SABR’s national biographical resource committee, and specializes in researching baseball’s birth and death records, among others, for accuracy (these people are fans, to be sure, but consider themselves more guardians of the game’s historical integrity).
He’s corresponded with more than 300 former major leaguers, he says, and found “60 dead ones” whose deceased status was heretofore unknown.
Abby Bennett has a finance background and a position in a non-profit cultural organization, says “no one is more into baseball than I am” and prefers wallowing in the game’s torrent of statistics. She’s also evidence that not every hardcore baseball fan is an elderly guy with a stubby pencil and a scorecard.
Joe Territo is in the ophthalmic medicine business, the official Red Wings’ photographer, president of that Rochester historical society and a researcher of the way the game was played in the 19th century.
“The whole dead-ball era,” he mentions as his curriculum of study, confident he is among people who know what he’s talking about.
Once this cast of characters, and the others, got talking, while paying close attention to the proceedings on the field, the memories, opinion and comments related to baseball spilled like waterfalls. Needless to say, it was not the usual blather about overpaid players or the cost of beer at a ballpark, but something more indicative of the homework these people love to do.
Notice that the Muckdogs that evening were playing the Tri-City Valley Cats, based in Troy, led to conversation about the Troy Trojans (or Haymakers), the National League team that evolved into the New York (and later San Francisco) Giants in the early 1880s.
Watching a between-innings on-field stunt for prizes by people drawn from the crowd, the talk was not about the charm or foolishness of it all but about the history of paid entertainers who barnstormed baseball games in the old days with comedy acts to amuse the fans. The names of Max Patkin, Al Schacht and Jackie Price (who could throw three baseballs at once, accurately; a clip of Price’s work can be found on YouTube) were tossed around, likely for the first time in years at a ballpark.
Poll these people about their first baseball game. Tim Hannan, attending with his wife Erin, recalls it was 1964 in Rochester, and “Luke Easter was on the team” (indeed, he was a coach. You could look it up, and these people know how).
Mike Dugan does not know the date of his first brush with baseball but recalls he bought his first baseball card in 1955.
(This writer’s first game was in 1957 at Buffalo’s Offerman Stadium. His Uncle Adam took him. The Bisons played Havana).
This is how it went for innings, as the hometown Muckdogs were outplayed by the visitors. They staged a comeback at the end but lost, 5-2. The interest in the game never wavered, nor did the constant conversation and comment of an affinity group of dedicated fans.
The sport of baseball is adequately swift to keep one’s interest, yet slow enough that every action on the field can be dissected, statistically recorded, remarked upon and used as a jumping-off point of reference about bygone players, ballparks and long-ago incidents. It has been said the sport’s beauty lies in its lack of a clock; its clock is actually more like an almanac or history book. The game was codified into rules in any number of years in the 1800s (and something called “base ball” was prohibited in Pittsfield, Mass., in 1791), and has thrived, or at least stayed relevant, ever since. These people can tell you all about it.
With the final out in Batavia, the Luke Easter chapter of SABR adjourned. I suspect each participant left pleased to have attended, pleased to meet the like-minded adherents of this beautiful game. Pleased someone was there to listen to his or her stories, and hear stories in return.
Certain people would have been bored senseless by this sort of thing. Certain others felt very much at home.
Ed Adamczyk is a Kenmore resident and can be contacted at EdinKenmore@gmail.com.