U.S. Naval War College students will don World War I-era replica baseball uniforms to play a May 10 throwback game at Newport’s Cardines Field in tribute to the role of baseball as a unifier during the “Great War.”
The 11:30 a.m. game -- which is free and open to the public -- also honors former college president Adm. William Sims for his leadership in championing the sport as a strategic tool during WWI.
In the event of heavy rain, the scheduled makeup rain date is May 17.
On July 4, 1918, U.S. troops played a historic baseball game in London for 70,000 spectators, including Winston Churchill and King George V. The event was the culmination of a careful strategic effort by Sims, who was dispatched to Great Britain in 1917 as the senior naval representative in what would be our nation’s first time fighting in a coalition force.
Sims’ play with baseball was twofold, said David Kohnen, director of the college’s Hattendorf Historical Center and an organizer of the upcoming game.
First, baseball showed that the United States was its own unique nation, with its own national pastime, and not a stepchild to Great Britain or any other country. Second, the game rallied American troops together at a time when many came from recent immigrant families with emotional ties to European nations. This tactic was also used successfully by the U.S. military back in the United States.
“When you are in a command position where there’s no rulebook, you have to be creative. You have to do what you have to do to get the mission accomplished,” said Kohnen, who is also a retired Navy commander.
“Baseball, believe it or not, is one means by which William Sims was able to achieve that.”
Sims issued orders for American troops to arrive ready to play ball, Kohnen said.
“He comes up with the idea of an Army-Navy baseball league, and he issues orders to ships inbound from America to Europe to be equipped with baseball teams as part of his strategy to create cohesion,” he said.
The Naval War College held its first throwback game in September 2017, to mark the centennial of the United States’ entrance into WWI. Last year’s game didn’t happen due to legal hurdles that were later overcome. Organizers said they are pleased to be offering the event again, before this class graduates in June.
In fact, said Mark Fiorey, Hattendorf Center deputy director, the organizers were largely spurred by interest from current students who had heard about the 2017 game.
The teams were issued uniforms last week. The all-wool jerseys and long pants are based on photographs of uniforms from that time and were made for the Naval War College by Ebbets Field Flannels of Seattle.
The “Army” and “Navy” teams – which include Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard players and two federal civilian employees – have been practicing on the campus’ Dewey Field. All are mid-career civilians or military officers pursuing a master’s degree in strategic studies at the college.
Air Force Maj. Mike Corrigan said the meaning behind the game's history was attractive to him.
“The fact that the U.S. was still a relatively young country and taking this game over and playing it in London during World War I, when a lot of the folks over there didn’t understand American culture -- It’s kind of a big deal to say, ‘Hey, here’s a little game we like to play, something that we came up with,’” Corrigan said, as he took part in fielding practice.
Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Bartholomaus, a Navy lawyer, said he hasn’t played baseball in about 25 years, but he is a big fan of history – particularly the World War I military history that he has been studying in his classes.
“The fact that we can take something as American as baseball and commemorate something in World War I is really important to me,” Bartholomaus said.
As for the replica 1918 uniforms? “It’s like running around wearing a suit made of sandpaper,” Corrigan said with a chuckle.
A little treasure of history was unearthed as a result of the college’s prior throwback game.
In 1918, King George of England gave pocket watches to members of the winning team. A visitor attending the prior Naval War College game heard that piece of the story and realized that a family keepsake at home must be one of those watches.
That watch is now on long-term loan from the family to the Naval War College Museum, Kohnen said.
The May 10 game will be held at the historic baseball field in downtown Newport, home to the Newport Gulls summer collegiate team.
The field is named for Army Pvt. Bernardo Cardines, a Newport resident of Italian heritage whose family left Italy to avoid the war. But Cardines was drafted by the U.S. Army and was killed during battle in France in September 1918. He was Newport’s first resident to die in World War I.
Event details can be found: HERE
Gates open on May 10 at 10 a.m., and the game starts at 11:30. Rain date is May 17. For more information on the event, contact Liz DeLucia at (401) 841-7276 or Elizabeth.DeLucia@usnwc.edu