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Home of the Braves

A new book traces baseball's long history in Richmond.


Religious groups strongly opposed Sunday games and beer sold at the ballpark. Baseball had an impact on nearly everything.

Mayer, an associate director of admissions at the University of Richmond, has co-authored "Baseball and Richmond: A History of the Professional Game, 1884-2000," with retired UR professor W. Harrison Daniel. In it, they document the chronology of all the city's amateur and professional teams since the game first arrived.

"I tried to incorporate more than just baseball," Mayer says. "I tried to incorporate some of the sociological aspects, cultural, historical and economic aspects, that tied Richmond and baseball together."

In writing the book, Mayer found a gold mine of material: his senior master's thesis in history from the University of Richmond. Chapters 2 through 5 of the book are pulled almost exactly from the work he did while he was advised by Daniel in graduate school. His professor, fascinated with the national pastime, paired up with him to develop his thesis into a book.

Primary documents that outline the beginnings of baseball in the 1860s were scarce, Mayer says. His biggest resource was The Richmond Daily Dispatch, now known as The Richmond Times-Dispatch. Mayer spent a couple hundred hours navigating through microfilm, listening to the grating whirr of the machine while pages flashed by.

"Back then there was no sports section," Mayer says. "But baseball was such an active part of the fabric of life, it was often one of the lead stories, right on the front page."

Through his daily readings of the paper, Mayer also explored the urban development of the city, as baseball diamonds were created and demolished from Broad Street to the Landmark Theatre, from the West End down to Mayo Island. Mayer says the island ballpark created an atmosphere that resembled McCovey's Cove in San Francisco more than 100 years before spectators swam after Barry Bonds' blasts today. Richmonders in rowboats sat in the James River beyond the left-field fence, trying to retrieve the balls so the team could save money, Mayer says.

Co-author Daniel had always been a baseball fanatic, idolizing and imitating Jimmy Foxx, a right-handed first baseman of the 1930s. When Daniel retired, he began work on one of his first projects, a Foxx biography.

Mayer grew up in Cincinnati in the mid-'70s, making it difficult for a kid to ignore baseball, he says. He lived only 10 minutes from the stadium and watched the Big Red Machine dominate major league baseball. Mayer sat in the stands while his father told stories of playing little league against Pete Rose.

Mayer's enthusiasm for the sport increased when he entered graduate school in 1995 and found the opportunity to work it into his academic interests. Daniel taught a continuing studies course on Saturdays that discussed the history of baseball in the golden era.

"That's when I learned that there is really an academic component to it," Mayer says, "beyond just the sport and the history of the game."

Mayer and Daniel celebrated the release of the book this January. Mayer still shows support for his passion by attending games at The Diamond, the home of the Richmond Braves since 1985. He attends games with his wife and son, who first watched a live baseball game when he was 3 weeks old. The Mayer clan embraces the family atmosphere of today's game, unlike the rowdy behavior that Richmond was notorious for in the 1880s and 1890s.

Mayer cannot picture Richmond without a baseball team, he says. The pastime's absence would leave summer vacant of one of its famed social outlets.

"You know, hockey, football, basketball all move at a faster pace," he says. "But it's something about baseball that just always holds my attention."

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