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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.

Baseball monument dedication honors friend's last goal

One side of the Camp Allen Park monument marking the site of the first professional baseball league game played on May 4, 1871. The monument was dedicated Saturday afternoon. (Courtesy photo)
One side of the Camp Allen Park monument marking the site of the first professional baseball league game played on May 4, 1871. The monument was dedicated Saturday afternoon. (Courtesy photo)
Bob Gregory
Bob Gregory
Bill Griggs
Bill Griggs
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press

Camp Allen Park spot marks first professional league game

Saturday, May 20, 2017 04:23 pm

To those who meet him, Bill Griggs can seem an acquired taste. He's a little crotchety with a very dry sense of humor that often makes one wonder if they are in on or sometimes the butt of the joke. They are always in on it, but sometimes it's hard to tell. As a local sports historian, he can be blunt if he spots a mistake, especially if he believes it could have been avoided by consulting him.

He's mostly a facts and figures guy with little time for fools, at least that's what he'd prefer everyone believed. Don't ask unless an honest opinion is truly wanted.

Griggs, 70, showed a little bit of all the heart he poured into his latest project Saturday when he helped dedicate a monument at Camp Allen Park marking the spot of the country's first professional baseball game. Though Griggs is quick to credit City Councilman Geoff Paddock, Don Graham and everyone else involved, he was the primary impetus behind getting the monument drive started, paid for and then installed, all in under eight months.

There was a bigger reason behind it than just memorializing a piece of our national history, though.

That drive started in September 13 when Bob Gregory, another baseball historian, passed away after a six-year fight with cancer at age 60. Gregory was the founder of the local Society of American Baseball Research chapter, and he had the original goal of a monument to mark the spot of the first game.

Hmm, Griggs thought, though it was played in Fort Wayne, we aren't even sure where exactly the first game was played.

That was enough of a challenge to get Griggs fired up, and he confirmed the site before organizing everything, and the monument was dedicated Saturday afternoon, though a rainstorm tried again to delay the proceedings. The ceremony was originally scheduled for May 4, the 146th anniversary of the 1871 game between the Fort Wayne Kekiongas and Cleveland Forest Cities, but the weather decided the Parks and Recreation Department manicuring needed more seasoning.

Despite more rain on Saturday, Griggs and Paddock said determinedly, "We're doing this," sort of like they said at the beginning of the project, and started the ceremony.

On one side, the monument includes a box score of the game and the inscription, "Donated in Bob Gregory's memory on May 4, 2017," by the Fort Wayne TinCaps, SABR, Northeast Indiana Baseball Association, Huntington Vintage Baseball, the many friends of Kekionga Base Ball, (artist) David J. Stalker and Archie Momuments.

"Who knew all those years ago when I met and married a 19th century baseball geek that I would end up here today," Gregory's widow Mindy said. "Bob and Bill thought a lot of each other, and Bill took to heart that my husband was so invested in the Fort Wayne Kekiongas. Bill just knew this was a dream for my husband.

"Bill shocked our family by getting Bob's name on there. Bob would be thrilled."

Of course, during his speech, Griggs talked about how important the history of the moment and place are, siting statistics and perspective and historic details, but inside he was excited for his friend.

So how much did Gregory's wish lead to Griggs' mission?

"That was my motivation," Griggs said. "To me, I can put myself in (his wife) Estelle's place if I died. I was spread over a lot more sports than Bob was. Bob was almost exclusively baseball. His whole life was baseball. He went to all the conferences that I would never go to, even if I could travel.

"I just hope that this gives Mindy the warm and fuzzy feeling of `Boy, did he ever accomplish something.' "

He sure did, and so did Griggs. What better thing can someone do for a friend than to take care of their family and see their dream completed? That's a simply beautiful monument that deserves to last forever.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Blake Sebring at bsebring@news-sentinel.com.

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