The Boys of Summer in Bonham
Bonham Daily Favorite, June 19, 1994
Like many other American towns in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, Bonham succumbed to the national craze for baseball in any size, shape, or form. One of the more important structures in town was the city ball park. In fact, during the long reign of baseball in our city Bonham had not one but two ball parks.
Exactly when the game came to town is unknown, but probably sometime during the last decade of the nineteenth century Bonham citizens responded to the cry "Play ball." Local newspapers of this period are almost non-existent, however research in area publications does give some clues.
Writing in the early 30's a sports writer of long standing for The Paris News recalls that the first ball game actually played in the Red River Valley was played at Bonham. Further, in his recollection, published in 1936, he stated that he believed this game to have been played some 45 years earlier - gives a probable date of around 1895. He recalled that the game was between teams from Bonham and Wolfe City. The visiting team traveled to the game by game by means of wagons and buggies.
An old photograph in the collection of the Fannin County Museum of History shows a Bonham team posed for a team picture . Some unknown hand many years ago pencilled on the back, "they were the Sliders." This may be Bonham's mythic first ball team.
Despite the lack of information on the beginnings of the national sport in the environs of Bonham, we do have more extensive information on later activities of Bonham's professional and amateur teams.
In the forty year or so history of Bonham baseball, one event stands out from the rest. On October 28, 1913 an ad appeared in area publications with the exciting news.
BALL GAME NEXT THURSDAY
"Just two days between now and the day Lefty Russell and the Sox and the Giants come to town. They will be here Thursday October 30, 1913. Remember the date and be here with us.
Make your arrangements to come and bring a friend with you. There will be a monster parade and you and your friends can see more baseball stars in one bunch than you will ever see again more than likely.
There will be Charles Comiskey who used to play first base for the old St. Louis Browns away back in prehistoric times, and there will be others. Comiskey will not play. He will not even attempt to play, he's the boss of the Sox and makes the others play."
The same issue of the newspaper also contained information on ticket sales. Admission at the gate was $1.00, Grandstand seats were $1.00 and box seats sold for $2.50. Tickets were available at Reb Peeler Drugs and Palace Drug Store.
Two nights before the scheduled game, a number of interested citizens met at the Fireman's Club Rooms to plan and finalize many of the day's activities. One request that came from the meeting was that all citizens who owned an automobile to furnish the same for the transportation of the piayers .
The big day arrived and promptly at 8:40 a.m the special train steamed over the Katy tracks to the depot on Center and First Streets. The visiting dignitaries were met by a special welcoming committee from the city. Several of the player's wives accompanied them on the exhibition tour and these were presented bouquets of flowers.
Next, the parade of cars began to stream up Main Street to the square where they turned left on Fourth Street (present day Sam Rayburn Drive), traveled west and circled the High School building. The few students who had actually attended school that day were on the lawn cheering the players on.
The parade motored up Fifth Street again to the square, turned on Main and proceeded to Tenth Street. From there they moved to Carlton College (but continued to drive on past) then back to Ninth Street to Center, down to the Post office and back to circle the square one more time before ending up at the Cotton Mill where the visitors were taken on a tour of that facility.
At the Alexander Hotel dining room the players, wives, and team officials were treated to a special lunch as guests of the Bonham Board of Trade. At the lunch it was announced that the starting pitcher for the White Sox would be Albert (Lefty) Russell, former Bonhamite. After the lunch the players retired to various rooms in the hotel to dress for the game. A second parade from the square to the ball park was staged. Citizens of the town lined the route anxious to catch a glimpse of the players and most notably a look at at hometown favorite Russell, former All-American and Olympic gold medalist Jim Thorpe, Charles Comiskey, Tris Speaker, Christy Mathewson, and John J. (Tug) McGraw.
The next day the reporter for The Bonham Daily Favorite described the game. "The weather was ideal. Had every fan in town wired his order for a day to the weather clerk he would have put in the plans and specifications on which the day was built, a clear sky, beaming sunshine, and just enough pep in the air to be bracing. It was glorious and every fan felt clear down to the toes of his shoes that his prayers for fair weather and a pretty day had not been in vain."
The reporter indicated that it was evident that Christy Mathewson was the idol of all the fans and they kept begging for him to pitch just one ball. But true to his position as only a figurehead of the sport, he declined all pleas.
Russell pitched before his hometown friends and family and he got two hits off the opposing pitcher Tesreau. Sadly his day of glory came and went all too swiftly. The Giants beat the Sox 4 to 1. However, midway through the game play was halted and at the pitcher's mound Judge H.A. Cunningham, with a few well chosen words, presented Russell with an engraved gold watch on behalf of his local fans and former teammates on the Bonham Blues team.
Despite the outcome, the day was termed a rousing success. No exact attendance figures were given but the newspapers reported that a large crowd was on hand. The morning run on the Katy from Denison arrived fully loaded and both the morning and noon westbound trains on the Texas and Pacific contained an usually large number of fares who alighted at the Bonham depot.
Fannin County Museum of History
One Main Street, Bonham, Texas