In an manner of speaking, baseball did take over the square for a little while on Wednesday evening. I mentioned it on my list of coming events last Sunday and, even then, I acknowledged I had no idea what was planned. The notice I found on the city’s site simply read “Amateur Baseball Opening Ceremony.” My first thought was that there might be an announcement about Knoxville reclaiming a minor league team, but then even minor league is professional, right?
When I arrived, several hundred high school baseball players, coaches and family members milled about the square. A man soon took the stage to welcome the crowd. He noted that this was the ninety-ninth year (I think I’ve got that right) this tournament had been held. It’s actually the World Series for the National Amateur Baseball Federation. He also pointed out that as many as half the teams had not made it to the square, but due to the fact that storms seemed imminent, they would have to hold the opening series without them.
As I walked around taking pictures, I thought I had a good shot of a team that turned out to be from Brooklyn. Most of them faced in my general direction. Before I could get the camera ready they began to organize themselves for the photograph. I didn’t ask, they never said anything, but I got the shot. I realized later that several formed their hands into two distinct signs. Gangs? Something they saw on Youtube? I don’t know. But it’s there.
Each team, introduced by the MC took their turn on the stage. Photographs taken, the crowd applauded each time. At least one team from Knoxville participated, though he said they were from Gibbs, Tennessee. It was, of course, Gibbs High School.
As part of his speech, the person in charge took a few minutes to talk about Market Square. He noted its designation as a national historic site and said he’d researched it a bit and that if we listened we might learn something. I yawned. Arrogantly, I knew he wouldn’t have anything to teach me about my neighborhood, right?
He made an error from the beginning by calling it “Market Square Mall,” which I’ll admit to slipping into every once in a while, myself. It was the first thing I ever heard it called. He mentioned the great writers who have included Market Square in their works and the great musicians who performed there. He implied they had all played on the stage at the end of the square and I believe that stage didn’t exist when Duke Ellington, who he mentioned, played there. Still, it wasn’t bad.
Then he dropped a little history on me that either didn’t know or had forgotten. He said that in the nineteenth century Knoxville had a close relationship, probably for commercial reasons, with Baltimore, Maryland. Knoxville, he said, appreciated Baltimore so much that they named Gay Street after the similarly named street in Baltimore.
In return, he said, the citizens of Baltimore had a bell cast as a gift to their friends in Knoxville. This bell, he said, originally hung in the Market House, now resides at the end of Market Square. Many times I’d wondered about the origins of the bell and thought it a shame that no signage clears up the mystery. It took someone from out of town to give me the story.
He said one other thing that stuck with me and it was simple: He thanked Visit Knoxville for their help with the event. It seems I’m hearing more positive things about Visit Knoxville on a routine basis and that’s encouraging after the disastrous ending for its predecessor, the Knoxville Tourism and Sports Corporation. If they are helping bring events like this one to town – or making it easier for them to have a positive experience, then they are doing a good thing. This simple event brings hundreds if not thousands of people to the city for several days and that’s huge.
Bonus Questions for those who read to the end: I’ve had a couple of discerning readers report a couple of things. First, the photographs on this blog are a bit fuzzy, not real sharp. Second, clicking on the photographs doesn’t enlarge them, as it should (and does for me). Do the pictures look fuzzy to you on a regular basis? Do they enlarge if you click them? I’d love to hear from you on this.