Baseball through small-town eyes

Taylor, Dale. Baseball through small-town eyes. Shawnee State University: Portsmouth, Ohio, 1996.

While I would not say this work is a literary masterpiece, it does accomplish what it sets out to do in chronicling a century of baseball in Portsmouth and southern Ohio. After reading the collection of articles, it becomes evident that the eyes shined brightest on Portsmouth in the first half of the 20th Century. Famed executive Branch Rickey, who signed Jackie Robinson in 1946 after decades of running one of the most successful franchises in St. Louis, called Scioto County home. Portsmouth had many incarnations of minor league baseball teams throughout this time period up until 1951. Professional baseball was a way of life in southern Ohio at the turn of the century. The Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball lists minor league teams in Cambridge, Chillicothe, Gallipolis, Ironton, Lancaster, Marietta, Pomeroy, and Zanesville along with Portsmouth between the 1880s through the 1950s.

Several changes occurred in minor league baseball that mirrored American life. Mainly, there was not as much interest in a minor league teams or industrial towns. With radio and television markets expanding, why not follow the major league team. Portsmouth was no longer a viable baseball market.

The Taylor’s stories covering the last 50 years show Portsmouth getting smaller in stature. No longer is Branch Rickey’s coming up from Portsmouth, but the stories center on former players visiting Portsmouth for funerals, baseball card shows and stories related to little league and high school state champions. This is all fine, but you get the feeling that Portsmouth is no longer the center of anything.

What was bad for Portsmouth is actually good for Baseball through small-town eyes. Where the older stories have a starchy newspaper article feel, the more recent articles bring the author’s experience. Taylor is a lifelong resident of the area and obviously enjoys researching this topic. Some of the highlights include ‘A Trio Plus One,’ where Taylor re-discovers an almost famous local pitcher from the late 1960’s, and ‘Why They Call Him Rocky,’ where Taylor perpetuates a false nickname story for the sake of local lore told in bars.

This is only briefly documented in Baseball through small-town eyes, but there was a resurgence of minor league baseball in southeast Ohio in the mid-1990s. This came in the form of the independent Frontier League with five clubs residing in the area between 1993 and 2008. As a cruel twist to these small towns, all of these clubs have since relocated to mainly suburban areas of larger metropolitan areas. The small town will always have the past.