"It wasn't like one day we just had baseball," Rick Harris said to a modest audience at the Brown Bookstore on Saturday. "It's kind of like a folk song. Baseball has a long history."
Harris is a social worker, but that's just his day job. His true passion is baseball, and when it comes to the history of baseball in Rhode Island, he's practically a walking Wikipedia.
"As a social worker, you hear a lot of sad stories every week," Harris said. "You have to have other things in your life that make you happy and relieve that stress."
Harris uses primary sources to decipher history. A Brown student's diary from 1827 mentions "playing ball," and is one of the earliest written documentations of the game in Rhode Island.
Harris deduced from the diary and other sources that in those days, the Brown "Base Ball Club" used to play on the green near where the Van Wickle Gates are today. Brown's team got more serious by the late 1860s, traveling to play against a few other schools, he said, and in 1879 Brown won the Collegiate National Base Ball Championships for the first time.
Harris published a book last year called "Rhode Island Baseball: The Early Years." He has several more on the way, with one specifically about the role of Brown in the evolution of baseball.
In the meantime, Harris has compiled a comprehensive record of Brown's baseball seasons since 1827 and a list of Rhode Island firsts in the game, including the use of the term "bullpen" — originally intended for parking carriages — and the first use of turnstiles for crowd control in a ballpark. "There are endless stories about baseball in Rhode Island," he said.