Yale’s apple orchard history

Whether you enjoy looking at the pictures or you’re just interested in reading, “Baseball in New Haven,” a pictorial history penned by Sam Rubin ’95, is a local baseball fan’s dream.

The book consists of 194 images, each with a detailed caption, and while it contains many compelling stories from all the local teams, both college and professional, Yale’s role in New Haven’s baseball past is second to none. The book weaves detailed descriptions of the evolution of the game of baseball with great stories about some of the game’s most prominent personalities. And then there are those stories that, were it not for high levels of detail, you might think were fiction. From Walter Camp to Jon Steitz ’02, the tales of the Eli are quite compelling.

For instance, Yale’s — and the New Haven area’s — first game was a 39-13 win over Wesleyan in 1865. Yeah, that’s right: 39-13. And you think pitching is watered down now in baseball? Well, actually, as “Baseball in New Haven” points out, pitchers can not be blamed for the high scores, at least, not totally. There was a “first bounce” rule in effect back then — a batter was retired if the ball was caught on the first bounce. Many a crafty outfielder would play in close, in anticipation of snagging the ball on the first bounce. It was a gamble that led to many homeruns.

When one thinks of Walter Camp, it’s always as “the father of American football.” But in 1882, Camp led Yale to an Intercollegiate Baseball Association title; the Elis captured first place in a league that also featured Amherst, Brown, Dartmouth, Harvard and Princeton. Camp was one of the first to master the curveball, and when he was not pitching, he also played shortstop and left field. Yale would go on to win nine of the first 10 Intercollegiate Championships.

And there are many more great stories from the early years of Yale baseball. I’ll bet you didn’t know that Yale purchased an apple orchard in 1882 to use as a field for baseball and other sports — or that the current Yale baseball team plays on the very same site. In the closing years of the 19th century and early 1900s, Yale regularly played games against major league teams. In 1901, the Elis rallied to defeat the New York Giants and future hall-of-fame pitcher Christy Matthewson, the loser. Imagine the sight of crowds of 15,000-plus overflowing the grandstands in the early 1900s for the “commencement game.” Then there was the 1981 NCAA Northeast Regional game at Yale Field between the Bulldogs and St. John’s that featured an epic pitchers’ duel between the Elis’ Ron Darling and Frank Viola. Darling’s 11 hitless innings were not enough, and St. John’s scored a run in the 12th to win 1-0. So many other nostalgic Yale stories and images fill the book’s pages.

In addition to the Yale stories are the accounts of the other local college teams’ accomplishments and the professional teams that have been local. The accounts of the West Haven Sailors of the World War II era and other local teams are just as compelling as the Yale tales.

The book’s format is its true strength. You can open to any page, look under any of the eye-catching images, and learn a fascinating fact about local baseball. Or, you can open to page one, start reading, and close the book two hours later completely enthralled with its historical account.

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