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NEWPORT, R.I. — U.S. Naval War College (NWC) will honor the centenary of America’s involvement in World War I (WWI) by recreating an Army vs. Navy baseball game played 100 years ago, on Friday Sept. 29 at Cardines Field in downtown Newport.
Players will wear historically accurate uniforms created specifically for the event, which will be played under rules from 1917. Players will be current soldiers and sailors who attend U.S. Naval War College.
The event is being organized in close collaboration with Naval History and Heritage Command, the Congressional World War Centenary Commission, and the City of Newport, as is a precursor to the opening of a new WWI exhibit to be featured at the NWC Museum in December.
The event is free and open to the public.
The gates to Cardines Field will open at 4:30 p.m.
As the United States mobilized for WWI, baseball loomed large in the American effort on the domestic front and abroad. Adm. William S. Sims, commander of U.S. Naval Forces in Europe, issued orders for Navy warships to establish baseball teams to play Army teams on the western front to rally Anglo-American collaboration in Europe.
“Adm. Sims was a very creative strategic thinker,” says David Kohnen, director of the John B. Hattendorf Center for Maritime Historical Research and the NWC Museum. “When American forces arrived in Ireland, the Irish disliked the Americans for supporting the British.
According to Kohnen, many British also viewed the American forces with skepticism, as many of the ‘bluejackets’ [sailors] and ‘doughboys’ [soldiers] of the American forces were of Irish and German descent.
“[In British newspapers], American troops were sometimes portrayed as an invading force,” says Kohnen.
For this reason, Sims used the Anglo-American Baseball League to demonstrate the uniquely American “national pastime” of baseball.
“Not only did baseball provide a diversion from the horrors of war, but baseball also demonstrated a unique American identity,” says Kohnen. “Through baseball, Sims attempted to show that our troops and sailors were no longer German, or Irish, or anything other than American.”
The novelty of American baseball was very popular in Britain and on the French and Mediterranean fronts.
Notably, King George V took great interest in American baseball. He referred to the game as being symbolic of the reconstitution of transatlantic relations.
Sims explained in the memoir, “Victory at Sea,” that George V and the British royal family regularly attended baseball matches “with all the understanding and enthusiasm of an American ‘fan.’”
Given British enthusiasm for American baseball, Sims unleashed his Navy baseball team of major league “ringers” during the Anglo-American Baseball League series against Army in the spring of 1918.
Navy dominated the series — earning gold watches inscribed to mark their victory and a signed baseball from King George V.
The signed baseball, later given to President Woodrow Wilson, will be on display at the NWC Museum when the First World War exhibition opens on Dec. 7, marking the centenary of the arrival of U.S. Navy battleships in European waters.