Long road to Cooperstown

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y., July 12, 2016 — Jennings Painter took the stage inside the auditorium of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. brimming with emotion. Instead of chairs, the aisles were lined with bleachers. The walls were painted to make the room feel like a baseball grandstand.

His hands were trembling. Tears began to settle in.

As a youngster 61 years ago, Painter didn’t know his knack for note keeping would lead him — and 18 of his closest buddies — to the Mecca of baseball.

On Tuesday morning, representatives from the Hall of Fame held a ceremony to accept the records Painter kept during the 1955-56 sandlot seasons in Stanley. Each summer, the neighborhood boys spent their days in a field off Aylor Grubbs Avenue in Stanley. Their games were organized and competitive. And as the sun began to fade, Painter pulled out his notebook, jotting down the statistics from that day.

After the notes were removed from Painter’s attic 61 years later, the idea came to fruition. Why not try to store these in the National Baseball Hall of Fame?

An initial letter was sent to Cooperstown, and the idea morphed into reality.

The Hall of Fame wanted the records.

The legacy of the Shady Grove Dodgers and Piney Wood Tigers will be preserved forever.

A simple stroll through the halls of Cooperstown is like Christmas Day for a baseball fan. A game-worn jersey of former Washington Nationals’ pitcher Jordan Zimmermann glistens in the light of the case in the opening display. Around the corner, a picture of Ty Cobb cruising in a Chalmers automobile is plastered across a wall. Cobb edged Cleveland’s Nap Lajoie for the 1910 AL batting crown. The car was his prize.

The museum is entrenched in artifacts surrounding America’s pastime. But according to National Baseball Hall of Fame Library Director Jim Gates, there is little to commemorate the days of sandlot baseball.

“In the history of baseball, sandlot plays an incredible role,” Gates said. “The reason this is so unique is because there was a kid, making this notebook while games were being played. And then he saved it. It’s a contemporary piece of Americana, and we are very pleased to have it.”

As the 18 players and their families boarded the bus headed home for the Shenandoah Valley, emotions were evident. Many of these men hadn’t spoken since their childhood, and were reunited over the game of baseball. Tales of dodging cow pies on the field and hopes for building a Stanley baseball museum were the focal point of conversation.

“This has been the most incredible experience of my life,” former player Donnie Wilson said. “I consider everyone on those teams to be my family.”

As Painter exited the stage, his hands had stopped trembling. The tears on his face were replaced with a grin. His teammates stood by his side, knowing they will always be part of baseball history.

More sports

Subscribe to our mailing list
Twitter  FaceBook  RSS