Behind The Scenes:
It began in March on a "hunch" idea and phone
call. Soon followed several uncanny introductions and timely
unfolding events involving a former Major League ballplayer (Jim
Bouton), a noted baseball historian/author (John Thorn), an upstart
19th century sporting goods company founder (Greg Martin) and
the world's largest sports programming television network (ESPN).
The end result would be a primetime nationally televised vintage
base ball game by ESPN Classic on Fourth of July eve.
Broadcast live from one of the oldest ballparks in the country,
the game would reunite two former early 20th century rivals --
Hartford Senators vs. Pittsfield Hillies -- in an 1886 vintage
baseball game. The game's inspiration and theme would center
around John Thorn's recent 1791 baseball document discovery in
Pittsfield -- the earliest baseball reference ever -- that made
With less than seven weeks to prepare all approaches and details
to the game, many agendas needed to be completed. While Jim Bouton
assembled his new Pittsfield Hillies club, ESPN Classic developed
the game's storyline, extensive production requirements and marketing
approach which included national ESPN Radio Network commercials
and 30-second television promotional trailers. Sidenote: This
event would be only the second live broadcast by ESPN Classic
in its history. The national broadcast reach would be 50 million
Greg Martin's Vintage Base Ball Factory got busy with designing
and making new Hillies uniforms, gloves, caps and baseballs and
providing creative approaches for the broadcast, game and Wahconah
Wahconah Park undergoes modest improvements to further enhance
a desired 19th century ambiance including exterior earth tone
color painting, construction of two large manual scoreboards,
era signage and, of course, pitchers mound removal.
Billed as America's Pastime: Vintage Base Ball Live!,
the event was pure ESPN-Hollywoodesque magic. Lights. Cameras.
Action! Resembling a movie set production, more than 6,000
fans packed Wahconah Park -- the largest crowd ever to watch
baseball in Wahconah Park's storied century-long history. Marching
bands preceded Hillies players into the ballpark who arrived
in mint vintage antique automobiles. Barber shop singers entertained
the crowd. The crowd included movie stars Tim Robbins and Susan
Sarandon, famous for their starring roles in the movie classic
Bull Durham. Bradley Shaw, captain of Flemington Neshonock,
recited live during the seventh-inning stretch a dramatic full
rendition of Casey At Bat. Post-game fireworks exploded.
It was a surreal night at the old ballpark.
On the field, the Hillies played their inaugural vintage game
against the established Hartford Senators, overcoming an early
2-0 deficit to build commanding 9-2 and 11-4 leads after five
innings. Impressive to the Senators, the Hillies had mastered
well the skill required to field a baseball using small hand-size
leather gloves. The Senators, however, pecked away inning by
inning using their learned 19th century baseball techniques,
tricks and experience to manufacture runs.
In the end, the Senators won 14-12. As each club exchanged
traditional vintage base ball post-game congratulatory Hip! Hip!
Huzzahs!, the park lights darkened and the fireworks began. Afterwards,
both clubs met downtown to reflect, celebrate and watch THE GAME
highlights on ESPN's Sports Center. The Senators then
boarded their chartered bus and returned to Hartford, arriving
at 4am. It was time for some sleep. There would be another game
that afternoon in the Hartford Tournament against Providence.
Only this time it would be vintage base ball as usual. No lights.
No cameras. Just action.