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Baseball exhibit at Depot Park Museum may be ‘The Only Game in Town’

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With the continued delay of high school athletics, youth sports and Stompers baseball, it looks like the Depot Museum will soon have the only game in town.

“I was pretty proud to come up with that,” said museum director Patricia Cullinan about the title of the next exhibit, “The Only Game in Town,” opening sometime this summer at the former train depot near Arnold Field.

It will be the second of the two-part “Baseball in Sonoma” exhibit, the first of which ran from October to December, 2019. That one emphasized the youth and women’s leagues of the last century.

“We discovered too much information,” said Cullinan. “We had to split the exhibit into two parts.”

This second part will focus on the men playing in the Merchant League and other similar competitive baseball organizations that, at one time, helped make baseball Sonoma’s most popular sport.

Among the artifacts uncovered was a 1970 baseball program, which showed almost 50 teams were playing at Arnold Field – men’s and women’s teams, boys and girls. Conservatively, that’s 500 people playing the game just 40 years ago, before cable TV and digital devices.

“Baseball was huge in Sonoma, everybody played baseball,” said Cullinan, who has lived in Sonoma since she was 2. She relates that Ray Tynan, coach and manager for the Vineburg Cubs in the 1920s, was personal friends with her grandparents. Every town had at least one Merchant League team – San Francisco had several – and they’d compete in area leagues much as the Stompers play in the Pacific Association today.

Like the first exhibit, “The Only Game In Town” will be co-curated by Kate Schertz, former chair of the city Cultural and Fine Arts Commission (and a third-generation Cubs fan). Schertz is a member of the Sonoma Valley Historical Society board of directors, whose president is Cullinan. Both women are in their 70s.

“We were trying to change the demographic of who comes to the museum and who would be interested in the historical society,” said Schertz.

Schertz pointed out the richness of Sonoma’s history. “You could do an exhibit on ice cream in Sonoma.”

Their immediate goal is getting the word out that the Historical Society needs photos, artifacts and other material about Sonoma baseball from earlier generations. It seems that even though they came across “too much information” in the first go-round, they could still use more photos of Sonoma ball players, in and out of uniform; and pictures or programs of the games themselves, from the Merchant League of 1920s to the adult fast-pitch softball teams of the 2000s.

They are also looking for nominations for baseball coaches at all levels – Little League and Babe Ruth, high school and adult men’s and women’s teams – that deserve recognition. “The coaches need to be acknowledged and it is hard to find info on many of them,” said Cullinan.

When it closed down in March due to the shelter-in-place order, the Depot Museum was preparing an exhibit on hats, which may be delayed until fall — or perhaps placed along the museum’s walls, with the baseball exhibit in the center. Understandably, Cullinan worries about maintaining social distancing.

“We’re not a place where there’s a crowd,” she acknowledged, “most people could easily socially-space.” Limiting the number of people in the museum at one time, if it’s ever necessary, would make it “really doable.”

There’s a plan well underway, too, to make more of the Sonoma Valley Historical Society’s records available to the public in digital form. They’ve partnered with the California State Library on digitizing some of the historic record of Sonoma, including the old Sonoma newspapers from the turn of the previous century.

They’ve even received the complete historical written minutes from the Sonoma Valley Woman’s Club meetings, where much of the history of the Plaza and other civic efforts are recorded. That, too, will be digitized under the California Revealed project.

Meanwhile their website-in-development at depotparkmuseum.org is being given a modern redesign, including videos and other multimedia. First example are two exclusive videos about baseball in Sonoma – 8-minute overviews of our shared baseball history, men and women, youth and adult — produced by Cullinan and Schertz.

A former foreign service officer who moved to Sonoma 11 years ago, Schertz had a long-ago career in theater, and she helped write both of the videos on the website about baseball, and narrated the one on women and children’s leagues. You can find them online at depotparkmuseum.org/videos.

“The only way people can see the first one is on the videos,” said Schertz, but they hope to open the second baseball exhibit by the end of July.

Cullinan said the Historical Society is “really moving into the 21st century.”

“And it’s a struggle, truthfully,” said Cullinan. “We don’t get any government funding — we rely on membership, donations and fundraising. It costs $3,000 to put up an exhibit – it’s all volunteer work.”

Still with Cullinan’s passion, and Schertz’s energy, and the talents of filmmakers and designers Russ Johnson, Kyle Adamson, Tom Whitworth and others, there will always be a place for exhibits at the Depot.

“My feeling about history is, if it’s not shared, it’s lost,” said Cullinan. “Seeing, feeling, touching, these are really important things. Eventually that will come back.”

Cullinan is working on an exhibit on suffrage for the fall – just in time for the 2020 election, and the 100th anniversary of the confirmation of the 19th amendment – and maintains a fervent interest in trains and Sonoma’s railroad history.

And then there’s always that hat exhibit.

And, who knows, maybe one about ice cream.

Email christian.kallen@sonomanews.com.

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