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  • Writer's pictureJH

Episode #107: The Old Ball Game


Life is funny sometimes.

A little less than 30 years ago I was poking around in the University of Guelph archives, reading the personal correspondence of one George Sleeman – brewing patriarch, baseball enthusiast, and one of Guelph’s founding fathers. I was researching an essay about baseball for a fourth year history course. Back in the 1870s-1890s, baseball was a hot ticket and Guelph was a major player. The Guelph Maple Leafs of that era were perennial winners, and they contested an intense rivalry with the London Tecumsehs. Both teams were among the first to employ professional players. Both also visited and hosted teams we now know and love or hate so many decades later, including the Boston Red Stockings, the Chicago White Stockings (later Cubs), the St. Louis Brown Stockings (later Cardinals), and others.

It was a fun paper to research and write. It was fascinating to look at how these teams contributed to life in a new urban world, how their rivalries created civic identity and pride, and just how much and how quickly it became a money game. It was probably the most enjoyable essay I completed during my undergrad, so you can imagine how warm my cockles were when I found myself last Friday night in the bleachers along the first base line, watching Guelph play London in the very same ball park where so many of the games I read about were played. It was surreal and so cool to try to picture the game and the people and the players and the park as they used to be.

Who could have guessed 30 years ago, sitting in those dusty archives, that I would eventually resurrect the Guelph vs. London rivalry on a weird kind of independent radio show?

Like I said, life is funny sometimes.

So this week it’s all history, with the exception of a few new music recommendations at the end. I still love the strange and unexpected places that these episodes go sometimes. I love weaving in various pieces of a superficial history or, as in this week’s episode, jumping from place to place to place and bringing it all back around again. Episode #107 starts at an amateur baseball game in 2022, then jumps back 140 or so years to the early days of baseball, then finds its way to the Battle of Bull Run in the American Civil War, to discussions of a possible afterlife, to First World War art, and back again. I don’t know if “pinball podasting” works for you, but I hope it does. It certainly works for me.

As I was writing about the spectators at the Battle of Bull Run, I remembered the 1980s miniseries North And South. It was based on the fabulous novels by John Jakes and it was a genuine television event back in the day. It starred, among many others, Patrick Swayze, Kirstie Alley, David Carradine, Jonathan Frakes, David Ogden Stiers, Forest Whitaker, and a long, long list of celebrities in cameos. Pretty great stuff for the time, even if the miniseries paled in comparison to the novels (‘twas ever thus). Anyway, there’s a great depiction of the First Battle of Bull Run in the series, so I’ve included the scene below, just in case you wanted at least a theoretical glimpse of what it looked like.

I’ll also include a photo of Frederick Varley’s For What? for your interest:

New music this week includes releases by Archers Of Loaf, King’s X, and Death Cab For Cutie – three of my favourite bands. It’s particularly exciting to hear new stuff from the first two, because it’s been years and years since they’ve released new albums. The songs will be included on the John Huff Podcast Referenced On The Podcast 2022 playlist, which you can find here. I’ll include the Death Cab video for Here To Forever below. Cool song, fun video.

So there’s another week in Podcastland. Thanks as ever for listening, and feel free to drop me a line here with your feedback, questions, music recommendations, and episode ideas. Cheers!

Death Cab For Cutie - Here To Forever

First Bull Run - North And South


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