I believe that it is crucial that we invest in the future of baseball in our city by preserving and honoring its past. That is why I am calling for the establishment of a foundation dedicated to the preservation of the region's rich baseball history with its primary purpose the establishment of a museum dedicated to it.
History is the lifeblood of our city, and viewing it through the lens of our national pastime helps to tell the story of our city. Baseball has been played in Richmond for nearly as long as the game has existed, and the items and images that tell the story sit gathering dust in basements, attics and storage lockers. It's time to get these items together and give them a home. Working together, we can not only preserve Richmond's baseball history, but make it come alive with exciting and interactive exhibits to inspire a new generation of fans and enthusiasts.
The museum would feature images or models of Richmond's stadiums throughout the years and include artifacts and memorabilia such as team uniforms while paying tribute to the great players from Richmond and those who played here. It would show young fans that the players they watch today will be the stars and Hall of Famers of tomorrow.
I grew up in Henrico County, playing baseball at Tuckahoe Little League and watching players like Chipper Jones, David Justice, and Ryan Klesko play for my beloved Richmond Braves. I even worked at the Diamond as a scoreboard operator for two seasons. When I was young, my father would take my brother and me to the Diamond and tell us stories about the old days of Parker Field, stories that starred players such as Mickey Mantle, Tommie Aaron and Satchel Paige. I watched Derek Jeter and Chipper Jones play shortstop at the Diamond, and even got autographs from Pedro Martinez and Mike Piazza when Richmond played host to the AAA All-Star game. Those days of playing and watching baseball with my father began a lifelong love affair with the game that continues on to this day.
From my mother, I was instilled with a passion for history. She was a librarian, a lifelong Richmonder and a local history buff. Family excursions that weren't centered around baseball were always history related, from visits to local museums to trips to Colonial Williamsburg. Naturally, I became fascinated with the history of baseball. I read every baseball biography I came across, and for me, the stories of players like Ty Cobb, Satchel Paige, Ted Williams and Jackie Robinson provided a deeper insight about life in 20th-century America than any textbook could. I sought out any information I could find on the local history of the game, and works like "Baseball in Richmond" by Ron Pomfrey and Scott Mayer's abstract on "The First Fifty Years of Professional Baseball in Richmond" helped pique my interest.
No museum of this kind would be complete without paying homage to and telling the story of Raymond Dandridge, the only player from Richmond inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Dandridge was born in Church Hill in 1913 and starred for two decades as one of the top players in the American Negro League and in various South American leagues. At the start of baseball's integration, he was signed by the New York Giants and assigned to their top minor league team in Minneapolis, where he served as a mentor to the great Willie Mays. He played two seasons in the minors, winning an MVP award and a batting title before his retirement. But he never saw his chance to play in the major leagues, as he was deemed by the Giants' management to be too old, despite his high level of play. He would be remembered as one of the greatest defensive infielders ever to play the game and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1987.
Today, hardly a mention of him exists in Richmond — no statues, no murals, not even a plaque. Most Richmonders, even baseball fans, have no idea who he was or what he accomplished. We need to pay homage to Raymond Dandridge's achievements and tell his story so that we might learn from the difficult history of our divided past and inspire tomorrow's young people to strive for progress.
The construction of the Diamond was a feat of cooperation, and the construction of a new stadium will no doubt require the same. It is my hope that this museum will be included in plans for a new stadium. The arrival of the Flying Squirrels in Richmond a decade ago was a revelation. Through savvy marketing and an increased level of community involvement, the new franchise proved the doubters wrong and quickly became one of the most successful in the minor leagues.
The family-friendly, fun-focused approach revitalized the city's passion for baseball, which had waned in the final years of the Braves' tenure. With the Squirrels' recent commitment to stay in Richmond for the next several decades, now is the time to make this investment in the future. A museum can be a year-round attraction at the stadium that will generate revenue through merchandise and gift shop sales. So much of the region's tourism is based around museums and historical exhibits that this project seems like a natural fit. The Squirrels franchise has consistently raised the bar on the quality of the experience that it delivers, and this project would push it higher than ever. During the upcoming All-Star Week in July, the eyes of the minor league baseball world will be on Richmond and it would make a huge splash and generate media attention to present plans for a museum to the public at that time.
With the Flying Squirrels working in conjunction with the city, local museums like the Virginia Museum of History and Culture and the Valentine, the Times-Dispatch, local collectors and institutions like Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Richmond, these artifacts and photographs can be preserved and displayed for posterity while honoring men like Ray Dandridge by telling their stories.
Their stories are our stories — which make the story of Richmond — and baseball is a huge part of that.
Clayton Herring is a lifelong Richmonder, local history buff and baseball fanatic.
Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.