This is my first stop on this adventure in which I’ve traveled by myself, although I did have company before and during the game – more on that shortly. This time around, in keeping with the What I Missed theme, I plan to travel on back roads whenever possible. I’ve seen pretty much Interstate highway in this country from east to west, north to south and back and forth more times than I can count. I’m done. Unless I have to travel a highway to get to a particular place or I am in what I hope will be a rare situation of being in a hurry, the Avoid Highways flag on Apple Maps will always be on. There is a lot more to say about this, in fact it is one of the main themes of what I hope will be another book, but I will save that for later.
The back road route from Hartland to Nashua took me down along the shores of the Connecticut River to Bellows Falls, Vt. I stopped in the village of Charlestown to snap a picture of the road sign commemorating the town’s most famous native son. I also stopped briefly at the site of the first bridge across the river….see below.
After wending my way through small towns in southern New Hampshire I arrived in Nashua four hours before the game, just as intended. I walked up and down Main Street enough times to get a sense for the place. There are lots of restaurants – some more enticing than others. There is a lovely public library sitting above the Nashua River which runs straight through the center of the city. At just under 100,000 residents, Nashua is a city of its own, separate from the larger Manchester to the north and much larger Boston to the southeast. It has successfully transitioned from the industrial era mills and factories that were powered by the proximity to the river to an extension of Boston’s high-tech hub. The Web reveals that Nashua was twice named the Best Place to Live in America by a magazine that rates such things. I’m not a city guy but it is true that this place has a lot to offer. It also, like most mid-sized cities these days, seems to have its share of challenges. Along with the restaurants and a very pretty walking trail along the river, are plenty of payday loan stores and vape shops.
But what Nashua has, more than most cities, is baseball history. In 1946, the Nashua Dodgers became the first racially integrated team in the sport when Branch Rickey sent future Hall of Famers Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe to play in the city. Both men recalled for many years the warm welcome the people of Nashua gave them that summer despite the fact that they were virtually the only black men in the city. Before the game the city commemorated that history by unveiling a marker placing Holman Stadium, which was home to the Dodgers and every Nashua team since, on the Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire. There were already streets near the ballpark named for both men and an amazing mural on the back of a tire store that has been in business since before 1946.
The hometown team had a tough night of it. I met my friend Tom Odjakjian for a brief dinner downtown before the game and then he followed me for the five-minute drive up to Holman Stadium. OJ has recently retired after a long career as one of the busiest (and most popular) executives in college athletics and sports television. It was fun to relive not only some of our past history together (see In League With America) but also to hear him draw on a seemingly endless supply of stories about sports and the people in and around the games. My friend Tim has a unique talent, if you give him the date you were born he can generally tell you what the number one song on the radio was at the time. OJ does the same with people. Name somebody in sports and more often than not, Tom knows him or her and can tell you a story about his interactions with them. Our two hours at the game together went by way too fast.
I learned at the game that the Silver Knights have won six titles in the eleven years of the Futures League’s existence and they are the defending champs. It was not apparent on the field, however. Soon after Tom left to return to the Cape (yes, he drove several hours to Nashua and back for this game) I made my way to the exit. The Silver Knights were trailing 17-1 and they ended up losing 20-1 to the Westfield Starfires.
It was a pretty good crowd for a Tuesday night in which local schools are still in session and folks hung around even as the game became increasingly lopsided but it was pretty obvious that there were no future hall of famers on either bench. It is hard to tell if the folks in Nashua care. But I’ll tell you who should care.
Because of the significance of the evening there were several people wearing Dodgers shirts at the game and that would have been even more true when the team was affiliated with the club through the 1949 season. It would have also been true when the city aligned with the Angels and then Pirates in the early 1980s. 12 players from the 1986 Nashua Pirates team went on to play in the major leagues and I am guessing there are still folks in this city that pull for the Pirates because they saw some of those players. But that 1986 season was the last year of affiliated baseball in this city. They are not making new Dodgers and Pirates fans here anymore.