During the 1940s, as informed by the late George “Posey” Gardiner, organized softball began in the country.
The formal aspects of the game were passed on to Bahamian young lads by Fr. Marcian Peters and Fr. Herman Wind, two stalwart Catholic Ministers of the Gospel who were responsible for amazing works in the pulpit and otherwise, particularly in the area of youth development.
The priests catered at the time, in 1946, to young men predominantly in their late teens and early 20s. They were all, initially, Bahamians of color, high mulatto and darker. At the same time, or shortly thereafter, private recreational softball games were being played at Garfunkel Field.
I vividly remember Gardiner telling me that Garfunkel Field was off limits to them, so the only other option was Clifford Park. There, the Cee Bees, the Warriors, the Westerns and the Vikings began a sports movement that later evolved to most of them playing a faster form of the game, baseball.
It was at Garfunkel Field though that the softball environment was much more sophisticated, and yes, socially limited.
Joseph Strachan in his recent letter to me regarding Garfunkel Field (1953-1956) referred to the delicate issue.
Strachan informed that the seating arrangement at Garfunkel Field seemed designed only for a certain ethnic group of Bahamians.
“It appeared that the games were intended to be recreation/entertainment for the white populace. The white fans sat on bleachers, erected in an enclosed fenced off area along first base line while the black spectators (all men and boys literally stood or sat on their bicycles outside the perimeter fence, along what is now the south side of Madeira Street.”
“The games at Garfunkel Field were played on Tuesday and Thursday nights and were broadcast live on ZNS. The late Donald Pritchard was the play-by-play announcer. The first ever recorded/documented ‘no hit’ softball game ever pitched in The Bahamas was by Barry Russell of the Home Furniture team. This feat made headlines in the Nassau Daily Tribune. Russell died in Abaco late last year,” reported Strachan.
At the outset, according to Strachan, there were five teams of all-white players with “the exception of one (Home Furniture) that had Vincent “Flappers” D’Aguilar who was the left handed first baseman.”
The totally all-white teams were the Sea Scouts, Bethel Robertson, Fines Department Store and the House of Myers. The other team in the league that solidified integrated play in softball in a significant way, was Royal Crown. Competing under the Royal Crown banner were players of the same color mix of “Posey” Gardiner and his colleagues.
Garfunkel Field indeed was the venue that put the official national stamp on softball integration. As time went on, the league at Garfunkel, moved to the John F. Kennedy Drive Park, very much integrated, with a growing amount of players of color while the percentage of white players dwindled. The Clifford Park softball element took their activities to the Southern Recreation Grounds.
Softball in the nation evolved majestically, to the point of The Bahamas’ men and women being ranked No. 3 in the world during the 1970s.
We had advanced exponentially over four decades of softball since integration of the sport at Garfunkel Field.
The trip down memory lane with Joseph Strachan and Garfunkel Field continues tomorrow in this space.
(To respond to this column, kindly contact Fred Sturrup at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Published Wednesday, March 22, 2017