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Baseball as Heritage

Few things represent quintessential American heritage like the game of baseball. Playing baseball and softball has a long history. In places dedicated to keeping the game alive, it is also a legacy for the future. Thanks to improvements coming to the lakefront, baseball, softball and tball at the new Ralph Wilson Park will be around for a long time, becoming a vibrant part of Buffalo heritage.

The game of baseball is heritage in more than one sense. Much of human heritage around the world is categorized as either tangible (such as a physical place) or intangible (like the knowledge of how to do something). Baseball is both. We have inherited baseball uniforms, bats, mitts, and programs from generations of game days. You can see many of these physical artifacts at museums like the one in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. You may even have some in your basement, passed on from an ancestor. Likewise, you don’t have to go far to find a long-standing baseball diamond, a tangible place that hosted play for generations. But baseball is also a form of intangible heritage. The knowledge and sentiments of the game are passed on alongside its physical artifacts. Many who learned how to play baseball did not learn it from a book. It’s unlikely that a how-to manual taught them to throw a pitch. Rather, they learned from other people. This passing on of knowledge is a form of heritage, one we cannot touch but is none-the-less reflective of our inheritance from the past. 

Like in many parks around the country, the heritage of baseball and softball has endured at the space transforming into Ralph Wilson Park. This urban greenspace has heard the crack of a bat for over 90 years. People gathered to watch the game without the comfort of bleachers or a stadium starting in the 1930s. It’s been a part of the park ever since. Generations of ball players have run the bases at the waterfront, many due to the efforts of Buffalo Hall of Famer Tovie Asarese. Since the 1970s, kids from all over the city have come to the West Side to play softball, baseball, and other games thanks to his lifelong dedication to amateur sports. In recent years, this heritage continued unflagging. The Westside Baseball, Softball, and Tball League continued the legacy, filling the fields with young players each and every summer, including a thriving league this summer (temporarily located at Riverside)! Today we have inherited a long-standing tradition of baseball at this park. 

Photo: softball game at the park in 1933. Collection of the Buffalo History Museum. General photograph collection, Parks – Buffalo and Erie County – Ralph C. Wilson Centennial Park. 

But, as we are exploring in the Heritage Engagement Project, heritage is not just what we’ve inherited from the past. It’s also what we stand to leave for the future. Today we are seeing a waterfront park in downtown Buffalo undergo a huge transformation. And as the final shape of the park falls into place, the community will see an improved capacity for baseball emerge. 

As LaSalle turns into Ralph Wilson Park, we can see efforts to support a legacy of baseball. While construction has temporarily relocated our little leaguers, return to the park will usher in a new era for the game. World-class partners like the MLB-MLBPA Youth Development Foundation have dedicated their resources to support this legacy. Four new baseball/softball diamonds are coming. New bathrooms, concessions, storage facilities, improved seating, lighting, and irrigation will also improve the park’s capacity for the sport. One of the four new fields will be equipped with a new scoreboard. These changes may take time, as they are in different phases of the renovation, but the final form will support baseball and softball long into the future. 

Baseball remains a deeply loved part of American heritage. At the space becoming Ralph Wilson Park we see that heritage at a more local level. Here, baseball has history and the potential for legacy. By connecting the community, supporting neighborliness, and entertaining our little ones past, present, and future, baseball is a thriving element of Buffalo heritage.

Lead Photo: View of home plate in a baseball game at Front Park, 1931. Collection of the Buffalo History Museum.General photograph collection, Parks – Buffalo and Erie County – Ralph C. Wilson Centennial Park. 

All of the Heritage Engagement Project blog posts, written by Dr. Kathryn Grow Allen, are now in one spot. Check out our new HEP page for past and future reading on heritage-building at Ralph Wilson Park. General photograph collection, Parks – Buffalo and Erie County – Ralph C. Wilson Centennial Park.