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America’s pastime in Eminence

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By Brad Bowman

Appropriately in the wake of opening day at professional baseball clubs across the nation, Howard Byers may be among the last generation to remember the Bluegrass League baseball games at the Oddfellows Park in Eminence.

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Byers fondly remembered Sunday afternoons and the ‘Fourth of July’ as child relishing America’s greatest pastime, baseball.

“The Oddfellows park had a great wooden grandstand behind home plate,” Byers said. “Some greats played there I don’t think many people know it today. The field was immaculate with just grass and you didn’t knock a ball out of it.”

Byers said the outfield didn’t have a fence. It didn’t have any candy wrappers littering the ground either.

“It was a different time then. I think people respected something like that more,” Byer said. “I remember going there in the late 1940s on Sunday afternoons with my dad. Many great players came through there like Jim Bunning, the state senator, who went on to play as a pitcher for the Detroit Tigers and the Phillies. Johnny Marcum, of Campbellsburg, who played for the Boston Red Sox, honed his skills there in the 30s.”

Byers said every town or township had a team. Eminence had a team in the Bluegrass League. Teams such as the Bowman Field Fliers and Bowman Field All-Stars played on the field as well as teams from Smithfield and Lockport. St. Matthews had a team that traveled to Eminence to play against Cropper in 1935.

Marcum was known as the Eminence Twirler and was affectionately called ‘Moose’.

In 1933, the Eminence City Council set aside Sept. 7 as All-Time Sportsman Day to commemorate Marcum’s career in the major leagues. For Byer it was greatest honor when he was able to play the game and share the same field as great players before him.

“It would be comparable today as a kid getting to play on the Louisville Bat’s baseball field (Louisville Slugger Field), “ Byers said. “I remember my uncle and father and I going to my first (Cincinnati) Reds game and that was no bigger a deal than playing at the baseball field at the Oddfellows’ Park.”

The Henry County High School and Eminence both played on the field.

“I grew up in Pleasureville and we would play our home games there and we always played Eminence there. We had to get permission to play there from a lodge member named Tom Bush,” Byers said. “One game, I think it was a conference, it was near the end or at least in the last inning and evidently none of the coaches had asked for permission. He walked out onto the field and stopped the game. The coaches apologized and that was all well and good but it didn’t matter. We had to go to a field at the high school to play the last inning.”

Byers remembers watching other teams play there too. Not just Bluegrass League teams, but African-American teams.

“I think it was some of the local guys that I knew by sight, but I didn’t know them personally,” Byers said. “It was the game to be seeing. There were playing someone from out of town. The guys were so competitive and they ending up winning. It was such a great game.”

Byers said during his childhood people came from the surrounding area for the games and especially for the ‘Fourth’, the great homecoming celebration that preceded the Henry County fair and never had the same draw, where people may only see each other once a year and traveled by train, car and buggy to get there.

“I left Henry County in the early ‘60s and returned during the ‘70s,” Byers said. “The Oddfellows had sold the park property to the Brunswick factory. Everyone thought it would be great progress with new jobs but there was bitterness after the fact.”

Byesr said the ‘50s marked the end of an age of innocence and the ‘60s brought social change. Albeit, Byers said the 60s didn’t come to Henry County until the ‘70s. But the carefree idealistic society disappeared.

“If you mentioned the park to the older generations you could automatically see the veins bulge,” Byers said. “I had a generation above me and the grave and that is not the case now. People didn’t know whether to blame the Oddfellows for selling the land or the city for wanting to bring in Brunswick. Basically Brunswick was just a building that was put up on this piece of land. There were people that would’ve sold them a farm, but instead they destroyed a landmark and it was a point of contention with all of that generation.”