Most newly constructed minor-league ballparks feature a 360-degree concourse that allows fans to walk a continuous circuit around the stadium. Many also have what’s referred to as a “batter’s eye,” or a clean backdrop spanning straight away center field with a plaza on the other side.
“It’s usually just the back of a wall,” Fredericksburg Nationals treasurer Seth Silber said.
The FredNats have decided to turn the otherwise blank slate into an 80-foot long history lesson. On Saturday evening, the team will unveil its history wall, which chronicles the game’s relationship with Fredericksburg spanning from the Civil War—when soldiers in both armies carved out diamonds on opposite banks of the Rappahannock River—to the game’s recent return to the city.
Gates open at 5 p.m., and the team will admit the first 1,000 fans for a free socially distanced 6:30 p.m. unveiling ceremony.
The FredNats developed the idea jointly with the Fredericksburg Area Museum and Dovetail Cultural Research Group. Germanna Community College signed onto the project as a sponsor.
“Rather than paying to have signage at the ballpark, we figured this was an opportunity to do something that was educational,” said Mike Zitz, Germanna Public Information Officer and a longtime fixture in the local baseball community.
The wall is only the most visible facet of what the parties envision as a five-year partnership. The team hopes to host groups of students and hold a series of guest lectures. Other initiatives will put game tickets in the hands of economically disadvantaged fans, Silber said.
Several years ago, when his family first contemplated moving their team from Woodbridge, Silber set about investigating Fredericksburg’s past with baseball. Among the first things he found was a five-page document with maps detailing the location of former ballparks scattered throughout the city. The author? Dovetail President Kerri Barile.
In 2013, during Fredericksburg’s flirtation with landing a different minor league affiliate, Barile went before the city council and outlined her findings.
“I was just blown away by the immediate connections I started coming across,” Barile said. “I read my memo about the history—at that point 160 years—and said this would continue it.
“Fast forward five years, got in touch with Seth and [Fredericksburg Area Museum president] Sara [Poore]. We were thrilled to come on board and build on that initial knowledge.”
By the time Barile’s research was complete, she had 250 pages on Fredericksburg’s baseball history. Poore, with her extensive historical preservation background, handled the design of the wall as a kind of living exhibit.
The timeline isn’t constrained to Fredericksburg, either. The Silbers are firm believers in the notion that baseball mirrors society, and the wall reflects that. Offshoots from the main timeline, or “callouts,” put into proper context developments like the release of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”
“We wanted to make sure to place Fredericksburg into American baseball history, because they’re so intertwined,” Barile said. “Fredericksburg baseball history is American baseball history.”
Joey LoMonaco: 540/368-5045
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