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08/02/2005 8:53 AM ET
Pittsfield: Small city, big baseball town
History includes earliest known baseball reference
tickets for any Major League Baseball game
City Hall in Pittsfield, Mass., was the site of an amazing baseball discovery. (Doug Miller/MLB.com)
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. -- There's an unmistakable mark on the window of Mayor James Ruberto's office in this postcard city of 43,000 people nestled at the feet of the Berkshire Mountains.

The mark isn't the work of vandals. If you look closely, you see it's a clear sticker with a familiar logo that says, "Curse Reversed: 2004 World Champion Boston Red Sox."

Yes, Pittsfield is a baseball kind of town.

"I'm a baseball junkie," Ruberto says with a smile. "I think this whole town is full of baseball junkies."

It makes sense.

The town has an incredibly rich baseball history that jumped off the charts last May, when city officials and former Major League pitcher Jim Bouton, who lives near Pittsfield, made a mind-boggling discovery.

Bouton, who pitched for the Yankees, Pilots, Astros and Braves and who wrote the seminal baseball book "Ball Four," received a phone call last April from historian John Thorn about a document Thorn had read about while doing research.

Thorn was thumbing through an 1869 book by J.E.A. Smith entitled, "The History of Pittsfield (Berkshire County), Massachusetts, from the year 1734 to the year 1800," and read about a bylaw dated 1791 that outlawed the playing of ball games within 80 yards of the Town Meeting House to protect the building's windows.

Amazingly, the wording included "baseball," making the document, if existent, the earliest written reference to baseball in North America.

"Because the book was produced under the authority of the town, I had no doubt as to the authenticity of the reference," Thorn said.

"I called the Pittsfield City Hall to see if their minute books went all the way back to the 18th century and was informed that they did."

Soon enough, the search began in earnest.

Officials learned a few weeks later that the document had been located in the files of the Berkshire Athenaeum, Pittsfield's public library.


"Cooperstown used to brag about inventing baseball in 1839. Heck, by 1791, baseball was already a nuisance in Pittsfield."
-- Jim Bouton

Sure enough, it 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."

"We were just shocked," Ruberto said. "It was a truly incredible feeling."

Added Bouton: "Cooperstown used to brag about inventing baseball in 1839. Heck, by 1791, baseball was already a nuisance in Pittsfield."

But it's not a nuisance now, not in a city that boasts so many claims involving the grand old game.

Did you know that the first intercollegiate baseball game ever played in America took place right near the corner of North Street and Maplewood Avenue in Pittsfield?

The date was July 1, 1859, and Amherst College defeated archrival Williams College by a score of 73-32.

And at nearby Wahconah Park, which opened in 1892, there have been tons of memorable moments.

In 1922, for example, Olympic legend and big-leaguer Jim Thorpe played in Wahconah for the Hartford Senators and Worcester Boosters. The same year, Lou Gehrig made his pro debut for Hartford and went 0-for-3 against the Pittsfield Hillies at Wahconah. Two years later, Gehrig hit a home run out of the stadium into the Housatonic River.

In 1928, the Hillies beat the Boston Red Sox in an exhibition at the park.

In 1944, Mark Belanger was born in Pittsfield. He would star at Pittsfield High and go on to win eight Gold Gloves at shortstop in an 18-year career spent mostly with the Baltimore Orioles.

In 1949, Nat "Sweetwater" Clifton played for the Pittsfield Electrics. Clifton would go on to be the first African-American to play in the National Basketball Association.

In 1986, the Chicago Cubs' Double-A team played in Wahconah, a club that featured Greg Maddux, Rafael Palmeiro, Mark Grace and Jamie Moyer.

And over the last 40 years, George Scott, Sparky Lyle, Carlton Fisk, Bill Lee, Bill Madlock, Edgardo Alfonzo, Jeromy Burnitz and countless other Major Leaguers have played there.

This year saw the debut of the Pittsfield Dukes of the New England Collegiate Baseball League, one of the nation's premier wood-bat college summer leagues. The Dukes were the brainchild of former Red Sox general manager Dan Duquette, who grew up in nearby Dalton.

"Dan saw the opportunity to get a team back playing in this facility," says Dukes chief operating officer Rick Murphy. "It's great that it was able to happen."

Ruberto says the discovery of the document comes at a good time because the city is expecting Wahconah Park to be designated a historic site.

When that happens, Ruberto says, there will be upgrades to the building and field and plans for a Pittsfield baseball museum will be drawn up.

Meanwhile, the Mayor says the National Baseball Hall of Fame has already acknowledged the document as an important piece of the ever-growing fabric of the game.

"The fact that Pittsfield has the earliest recorded mention of baseball really speaks to the history of baseball," Ruberto says.

"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.

"That's why Pittsfield really is the 'Garden of Eden' for baseball."

Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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