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Baseball memorabilia.imageBaseball memorabilia was displayed at the Virginia War Memorial, which hosted "Play Ball! 100 Years of Baseball in Virginia." "Baseball before World War I was huge," local author Al Barnes said. 

Virginia War Memorial program celebrates baseball in Virginia, sport's mesh with World War I

By John O'Connor
via the Richmond Times-Dispatch (VA) newspaper web site

To establish the link between the U.S. military and baseball during World War I, refer to the Idaho Statesman, the Boise, Idaho-based newspaper that’s been in business since the 1860s. On Page 9 of its April 21, 1917, edition, the following headline appeared: “Allies Need American Baseball Pitchers to Toss Hand Bombs”

A photocopy of that story was among the artifacts displayed Tuesday evening at the Virginia War Memorial, which hosted “Play Ball! 100 Years of Baseball in Virginia.” Generally, the program celebrated the sport’s history in the state. Specifically, it featured baseball as an important part of the lives of soldiers involved in World War I.

When millions of U.S. troops deployed to Europe, they brought with them their love of the game and promptly addressed the absence of diamonds.

“They made hundreds of fields. ... The French would stand around and wonder ‘What the heck are these crazy guys doing?’ ” said Al Barnes, a local author who wrote “Play Ball! Doughboys and Baseball in the Great War.” By the war’s end, there were more than 4,000 teams made of military personnel — including major leaguers, minor leaguers and Negro League players — competing in Europe, according to Barnes.

In the U.S., “Baseball before World War I was huge. Everybody played. Every town had teams. Every town had leagues,” Barnes said. “If you had nothing else to do, you got some of your friends together, you got in a wagon, and you went to another town and played them.”

Barnes spoke Tuesday night at Virginia War Memorial’s Paul and Phyllis Galanti Education Center along with Todd Parnell, the vice president and chief operating officer of the Richmond Flying Squirrels, the Double-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants.

Barnes’ interest in how baseball meshed with WWI grew out of research he conducted for another book on immigrants in the military. His insight was complemented by Jim Triesler, who provided most of the artifacts.

Read the entire article on the Richmond Times-Dispatch web site.

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