Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Take Me Out to the (Soft)Ball Game!

By: Doug Kendall, Curator of Collections
When Stephen C. Clark and his old brother Sterling had a falling-out back in the 1920s, I’m fairly certain neither foresaw one result of their quarrel: a couple dozen museum staff members playing softball on a muddy field in Cooperstown on a cold and wet October morning in 2009. The two Clarks were among the heirs to the Singer sewing machine fortune, which had been amassed largely through the business acumen of their grandfather, Edward Clark (1811-1882). Their disagreement apparently related to their differing views of how their fortune should be managed.

The details aren’t important at the moment. But Stephen and Sterling refrained from speaking to each other for the next several decades. Both brothers created cultural institutions that have endured into the 21st century. Stephen focused his energies on the Clarks’ hometown of Cooperstown, New York, founding the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum and The Farmers’ Museum and inviting the New York State Historical Association to settle in the village, where it soon began to develop what is now the Fenimore Art Museum. Sterling Clark, perhaps because of the old sibling rivalry, founded the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts.

These institutions have long since forgotten any animosity that existed between their patrons. But several years ago, the Hall of Fame staff decided to challenge the Clark Art Institute staff to a softball game. Staff from the Fenimore Art Museum and The Farmers’ Museum were invited to take part as well, and the game has become an annual event, complete with a trophy (the Clark Cup) awarded to the winner.
This year I volunteered to play for the first time. Mind you, though I have coached Little League baseball for the past five years, the last time I played “competitive” softball was about 30 years ago. So I was quite happy to find that most of the others on the Clark Stephens were younger and considerably more spry than me.
Curator Trying to Turn Two, October 7, 2009
Despite intermittent rain and gusty winds, we played the planned six innings. After one batter, our pitcher retired only to be replaced by a surprise ringer: Hall of Fame knuckleballer Phil Niekro. Phil held the Clark Sterlings at bay (more or less), our offense took off and Cooperstown prevailed 22-19. As for me, I got my softball swing timed right by my third at-bat and singled to left, got my uniform all dirty diving back into first on a line out and later forced a runner on a ground out (though we didn’t get the double play). It was great fun, overall—especially getting to play behind Phil Niekro, who seemed to be having a great time, too.
Phil Niekro on the mound, October 7. 2009
The soreness wore off after a few days, so I guess I’ll have to consider playing in next year’s game, which will be in Williamstown. Now back to normal curatorial activities…

The Clark Stephens with Phil Niekro, October 7, 2009

All photography by Zachary Winnie.

No comments:

Blog Widget by LinkWithin