Richmond’s love affair with baseball – BurlingtonFreePress.com
Sports can bring a community together. For many decades the people of Richmond shared baseball.
Organized baseball in Richmond dates back to the late 1800s. From around 1900 through the 1960s a small ball park just north of the downtown business area served as the townâs home field. There the town menâs team and high school boys took on squads from around northern and central Vermont. As automobile travel became common, fans would overcome bad roads, flat tires and fuel shortages to follow their teams. Ball games were the featured events on the Fourth of July and at other community celebrations. Hometown winners were heroes. From the end of mud season to the first autumn frosts, baseball brought passion and excitement to the Richmond community.
Between 1895 and 1904 the Richmond men competed against teams from Barre, Essex Junction, Vergennes and Waterbury, among others. A July 24, 1899 Barre Evening Telegram reported that the Richmond club âhad a star aggregation of ball tossersâ as well as several other players with minor league or collegiate experience, which made for a âcombination hard to beat.â
Plenty of support in 1905
In June 1905, a group of town leaders organized a Richmond Baseball Association. The manager of the new association was to be assisted by a seven-member advisory committee, as well as a treasurer, secretary and five-member grounds committee. The administrative support group thus outnumbered the team itself, surely a sign of Richmondâs enthusiasm for baseball. According to newspaper accounts of the organizational meeting, âLiberal contributions are assured and the team starts in with a promising outlook.â
The Richmond Baseball Association administrators were among the townâs most prominent business leaders. They included the manager of the Vermont (later Bordenâs) Condensed Milk factory, a town physician, a hotel keeper and several downtown merchants. The ball club itself was more eclectic. Local farmhands, factory workers and shopkeepers shared the field with collegiate players. The son of the Bordenâs manager was on the 1913 team; the factoryâs foreman, a 1927 member. Some players came from long-established Richmond families. Others were drawn to the town because of its employment opportunities. A few may have had no Richmond ties beyond the chance they were given to play baseball.
Summer holidays and festivals were always busy times for local ball clubs. The year 1913 was particularly festive, with games at Williston during the townâs 150th birthday celebration, against Bristol at the Addison County Fair, and in Richmond during the Round Church Centennial celebration. Richmondâs town treasurer later reported that revenue from ball games and dinners during the Centennial festivities more than covered expenses for the entire three-day event.
A 1917 Labor Day celebration featured a morning game between the Richmond and Burlington American Legion teams and an afternoon contest between Richmondâs town team and the Johnson American Legion squad. A flier about Fourth of July activities from around the same time advertised a âLadies Base Ball Gameâ between Richmond and Underhill as âThe Big Attraction of the Day,â followed by a game between the town team and the Barre American Legion squad.
Yet another big game was a 1921 Fourth of July contest in which former University of Vermont and Boston Red Sox star Ray Collins came out of retirement to pitch for Richmond against Bristol. The Bristol Herald reported with enthusiasm that their team âwalloped Collins in fine style.â But Richmond won the game 8-7.
The Richmond men who played with Collins had talent. Several former collegiate players were on the roster, including Richmond native Jack Berry, who had been a starter for UVM a few years earlier. In advance of a highly anticipated match-up between Richmond and the St. Albans Independents, the St. Albans Daily Messenger called Berry âa good catcher and a dangerous hitter.â Pitching ace Lawrence Lauderbaugh was described as âone of the best left handers in the state,â while the outfielders were âall fast men and good hitters.â This game, played on Aug. 6, 1922, turned out to be a pitcherâs duel, with St. Albans handing Richmond only its third loss of the season in a 1-0 contest.
Richmond High School also had a series of strong teams in the 1920s. Students were proud of their winning tradition, especially given the schoolâs small size. âBase-ball has been our only major sport,â explained a student writer for the May 1924 school magazine. âIn this, Richmond has made an enviable record. Few high schools, in her class, have won more victories in a period of years.â Around 80 students a year were enrolled in Richmond High during the 1920s, well over half of them girls. Sometimes eighth-graders were needed to make up a nine- or ten-player roster.
The 1923 team placed second in the Champlain Valley League. The 1925 team, coached by Jack Berry, posted a 12-4 record, playing teams from Burlington, Essex Junction, Fairfax, Jeffersonville and Waterbury, among others. The 1927 team went 8-2 for the season.
Needed gas for the games
The playersâ classmates would go to great lengths to support them. One 1946 alumna spoke years later about the challenges of attending games away from Richmond. When gasoline was rationed during World War II, she and her friends âwould have to steal gas from different farmers to let us go to the baseball games that were out of town.â They âgot to go to most of the games,â she recalled. âAlways somebody we could get five gallons of gas from.â
On one occasion, a car full of kids on their way to a game in Essex Junction had a flat tire. The adult driver was very pregnant at the time. âSo all us kids hid and a truck driver came along and changed her tire,â a passenger remembered. After the trucker left, âwe all came out of the grass and we took off and left from there!â Whether they made it to the game on time was not recorded, but their love of Richmond baseball had led them to a memorable adventure.
A 1953 alumna recently reminisced about the community-wide enthusiasm for Richmond High baseball during her student days. Kids would pile into cars after school and drive to wherever the team was playing. Parents and other adults would come as well, she remembered. Though the ball fields had bleachers, some fans chose to park their cars behind home plate. They would honk their horns whenever Richmond made a good play. After the 1952 championship season, the town hosted a banquet to honor the coach and team.
Richmond High School baseball came to an end after the 1967 season. The opening of Mount Mansfield Union High School meant that henceforth Richmond and archrival Jericho would play and cheer together for the MMU Cougars.
he town continued to field a menâs team into the 1960s. It was a good team, with 1950s high school stars and several former UVM players on the roster. They played in the Eastern Border League, against rivals such as Hinesburg, Jeffersonville and Jericho. On some weekends they would travel to Canada to take on clubs from southern Quebec, then stop in St. Albans for a night game under the lights. Home games were played on the old ball field that had hosted Richmond baseball since the beginning of the 20th century.
Today, Richmond supports baseball at Camels Hump Middle School and through an extensive Little League program. The middle school has two baseball and two softball teams, with home games at an on-campus ball diamond.
The Little League program organized 19 baseball, softball and tee ball teams for almost 200 children this year. Although most of the games are now played elsewhere, the old ball park just up the road from the center of town is still used for softball. A truckload of red clay was brought in this spring to improve the infield. Thanks to Little League, a new generation of batters, fielders and pitchers can enjoy playing ball on the field that has entertained Richmond baseball lovers for decades.