The following is a tour journal of my good friend James Generic from Philly. When he told me of his plans to do a barnstorming tour, I knew we had to have him write it up. It’ll be broken into parts (probably 3), what follows is part 1.
Introduction: Sports, like anything, are a place where the personal becomes political. Generally, sports for most adults are something that they watch and not something in which they participate actively. So in the spirit of building a new world in the shell of the old (as the IWW says), over the last three years in my hometown of Philadelphia, radicals, punks, neighbors, and friends have built the Oregon Avenue Octopi softball team.
Ours is a team built on the want of people to have a stress reliever, social outlet, and a cheap way to get exercise. Ours is a team of people from local political activist backgrounds and/or the punk rock scenes, and thus many of our values are based around our opposing social issues such as: racism, sexism, classism, homophobia and transphobia while also incorporating a DIY anti-capitalist ethos and a directly democratic (participatory) model built into the team’s efforts. Though like all political projects these ideals are met with varying degrees of success. Every Sunday, we stretch, work on skills, play some pickup softball, and then often hang out at a local bar, the Pizza Pub. Even with the regular turnover of an organization trying to define itself, we’ve continued to build the team and put out zines, stickers, t-shirts, and two (and counting) incarnations of a team band, The Ink Stains.
About a year ago, one of the founding members of the team, Sam, had a beer-inspired idea for us to go visit his uncle in Michigan, who plays on a vintage baseball team that goes by 1858 rules baseball. Now, as most ideas that are formed over the consumption of alcohol go, this one required some refinement. By August of 2012, we were opening talking about making a barnstorming tour of the Midwest to make such a trip possible, where we would hit up similar DIY softball/baseball teams and build those informal networks and relationships. It would be almost a throw back to when baseball teams would barnstorm to small towns to play local teams in the 1910s-50s.
Over the course of the next year, we put in the work to make this dream a reality. Of course, we would pass through Detroit and potentially could play a team there. There was the vintage ball team in South Haven Michigan, a team of mostly middle aged men doing reenactment of old time baseball. But in addition, there was potentially a team in Milwaukee in The Seiten Phillies, apart of a co-op in a lefty neighborhood. In Columbus Ohio, Rock n Roll Softball is a long institution going back 25 years mostly consisting of punk rock softball play fueled by whiskey and good times, all based around the neighborhood around the Ace of Cups bar. In Pittsburgh, the Pittsburgh Pounders are a punk baseball team, who we played in July 2012 along with our crosstown frenemies in the West Philly Waste at a tournament outside Philly’s annual punk festival, Punx Picnic. Finally, my friend Jessica who is heavily involved in the Baltimore radical community had been saying she’d like to form a team to play against us. We know of New York punk softball as well, though it was in the wrong direction. So we hit up all of them to see what we could arrange in heading in that direction. The Milwaukee stop didn’t work out just because of the schedules, but by January, it was looking like a 5 day 5 stop schedule: Philly-Detroit-South Haven-Columbus-Pittsburgh-Baltimore, set for July 25th to July 30th, 2013.
July 2013: After we had done multiple fundraisers, a few basement shows and a block party: we rented a 15-passenger van to be our chariot for five days. Our roster, in alphabetical order:
1.Brielle, a spunky organizer with Girls Rock Philly.
2. Cait, a posi musician and artist originally from Long Island.
3. Caleb, our logistical coordinator and the treasurer of the Wooden Shoe Books, the local anarchist bookstore/infoshop collective, who knows how to party.
4. Chris, a staffer at the Wooden Shoe and veteran of Occupy Wall Street, and extremely easy going.
5. Ciara, another Wooden Shoe staffer whom is active in prison abolition struggles.
6. Danny, a core member of the Defenestrator, Philly’s long-running Anarchist newspaper and Shoe staffer.
7. Drew, a designer and longtime punk rocker from Harrisburg.
8. Josh, an upbeat wisecracker from Boston.
9. Lou, joining us in Columbus, an angsty shoe staffer and a former student activist.
10. Matty, dating Cait and a punk rock musician originally from New York.
11. Reed, a last-minute addition whom plays ball with the New York punk softball.
12. Sam, an older grizzled, obsessive sports fan and metalhead, his 9 year old son.
13. Koba, Sam’s 9 year old son.
14. Ryan, Sam’s friend and a longtime Cubs fan and history buff, all of whom were staying just for the Michigan stops of our trip/
15. Wes, a detail oriented cartographer and former workers’ power organizer.
16. Finally, myself, James a long-time Wooden Shoe staffer, workers’ power activist, on-and-off again punk rocker, and nutty Philly sports fan.
Our numbers started at 14 from Philly to Detroit, 15 from Detroit to South Haven, 12 from Kalamazoo to Columbus, and finally 13 from Columbus back to Philly. We cramped the van to absolute capacity, at times barely moving on our way to places where we would be expected to suddenly be athletes.
Philly to Detroit
As we gathered at Sam, Lou, and myself’s house, we set “the mood” by watching the following: The Dock Ellis LSD No-Hitter video put out by No Mas, the Baseball Friends shorts, the Simpsons softball episode, the Star Trek Deep Space Nine baseball episode, and the classic about barnstorming in segregated America, “The Bingo Long Travelling All-Stars and Motor Kings.” We thought it important to get ourselves “in the mood” for our undertaking.
We finally piled into our rental van and left around 1am, excited to see what the days would bring us.
Chris navigating on the first day.
While I would like to tell you we sang all night long, most people fell asleep for the drive across Pennsylvania, which we exited around 6 or 7am.
We arrived in Detroit around 3pm or so. Detroit was the only spot we weren’t playing another team, and we planned it to see our beloved Phillies play the Tigers that night at Comerica Field. Having debated a few different things to do during our stay in Detroit, we settled on checking out The Heidelberg Project (http://www.heidelberg.org/), a block in one of the poorest places in Detroit which has been turned into a giant art project by the residents, much of which is themed around the neoliberal destruction of American cities, particularly Detroit.
We lingered around for nearly an hour, taking in this very amazing attempt for neighbors to retake their neighborhood from the bottom-up. Finally, wee departed for the bar Green Dot Stables on advice from one of the Heidelberg guides. Not far from Comerica Field, the bar offered cheap sliders and beer.
After a long journey, we finally were able to chill out over beers. From here it was onto see one of the best teams in Major League Baseball, the Detroit Tigers, versus our Phillies whom were playing as lousy as anyone in the big leagues at the time. Due to a miscommunication, half of the team didn’t get tickets to go into Comerica, so we were split between those going into the stadium and those chilling outside.
Amazingly, the half of the Octopi crew who were shut out of the game actually found a perch where they could view the game for free. I snapped a picture of them from our seats. A Critical Mass, the global bicyclist demonstration against automobile culture coincidently went by:
Some more sites from Comerica:
Also a racist maniac.
After the game (which of course, the Phillies lost 2-1, which turned out to be the closest game of the three game series), we drove across state to a suburb of Kalamazoo, to crash on the floor of Karla, Sam’s girlfriend, who graciously greeted us with tequila shots. We slept very soundly.
Part II can be found here.