Columns, Opinions, Sports

Schapiro ’19: The greatest Brown graduation story ever

By
Sports Columnist
Monday, April 22, 2019

I’m in the late innings of the last start of my career, and the manager is coming out to get me. I’m done, he says, and I can hit the clubhouse and start preparing for graduation while some rookie takes over where I left off. It’s been four years for me at Brown and at The Brown Daily Herald, three as a baseball columnist. Now, I’ve got one column left and three requests to make — three things that I hope Brown students will do so long as they are able.

The first is simple: Take writing classes. You don’t have to be an English concentrator to enjoy writing about whatever interests you. ENGL 0930: “Introduction to Creative Nonfiction” is the Brown course that everyone should take. For my first assignment in ICNF in spring 2016, I wrote an essay about the 2004 Mets catcher Joe Hietpas and earned school credit for it. Write what you love. It will take you places.

Even if you don’t think you’re much of a writer, writing classes are still worthwhile. Practice makes perfect, and writing is no exception. In addition, even if you don’t enjoy writing, you’ll read some of the most interesting material you’ve ever encountered. My life is better today because I read Hunter S. Thompson’s “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved” when I took ENGL 1050E: “Sportswriting” in the spring of 2017.

My second request is also simple: Remember baseball. Every week or so for the last three years, I have tried to capture in this column how special baseball is. On baseball fields, beautiful things happen. Unexpected heroes emerge. Players fail and redeem themselves. A fastball brushes the outside corner and explodes into the catcher’s mitt and serves as a reminder that for moments ever so brief, perfection can exist.

Watch a Brown baseball game, and you’ll see a group of players bonded by a mutual love for each other and for the game that they play. Remember baseball. Remember green grass and summer picnics. Remember the things that make life worth living.

This brings me to my third request, which is probably my most important. It goes, more or less, like this: Remember, as clichéd as it may sound, that Brown graduates can accomplish anything. When you leave Brown, the world will seem difficult, but remember that you can do great things.

I want to illustrate this point with a story that I learned from following my first two requests. When I took Sportswriting, I started a group chat with some classmates and other friends called “The Only Baseball Fans at Brown.” Last summer, The Only Baseball Fans at Brown reminded me of the greatest Brown story ever — a story that, somehow, no one seems to know. A story that my dad used to tell me when I was young, that sounded like folklore, but is absolutely true. It’s the story of John Lee Richmond ’1880.

Born in 1857, Richmond enrolled at Brown in 1876 where he played baseball and was elected Class President. In 1879, he began pitching for the National Baseball Association’s Worcester franchise. Richmond had a short baseball career after college and later established a successful medical practice, but it is his graduation from Brown that deserves retelling. Here’s how the Society for American Baseball Research describes it:

“Besides being the Worcesters’ front-line pitcher, (Richmond) was wrapping up his college studies and was scheduled to graduate from Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, 40 miles down the road from Worcester, on June 16. Richmond skipped Worcester’s Friday exhibition game with Yale University, returning instead to Providence for Brown’s graduation festivities. His classmate, Walter Angell, recorded Richmond’s activities while in Providence in a scrapbook:

‘I met them (Thursday night) at the depot … and rode out to the Messer St. ball grounds in a carriage. … We returned at midnight. Next day was Class Day. Richmond went to the Class Supper at Music Hall. He was up all night. He took part in the usual ball game about 4:50 Saturday morning; went to bed about 6:30; took the train for Worcester at 11:30.’

In other words, John Lee Richmond went to the 1880s’ version of Campus Dance. He didn’t go to bed until 6:30 in the morning and woke up in time for an 11:30 train.

Later that afternoon, John Lee Richmond took the mound for Worcester and threw the first “perfect game” in professional baseball history.

Remember John Lee Richmond, and live by his example. The day Richmond left College Hill, he threw baseball’s first perfect game. I’m not sure what will happen when I leave Brown, but I know I’ll aim to do what I love. While we can’t all throw Perfect Games, we can all do great things and pursue lives worth living. While we’re at it, we can leave room for baseball, great writing and all those other things that make the world beautiful.

James Schapiro ’19 can be reached at james_schapiro@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.