1953 team reunites for baseball exhibit opening

Giles Darr, 74, of Front Royal, holds a bat, vintage glove, and his team jersey from the 1953 Little League All Star team. The Warren Heritage Society has created a display of baseball memorabilia for Front Royal dating from the late 1800s to the 1960s that will open to the public this weekend. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – When the Front Royal Little League team returned from its loss to Birmingham during the 1953 World Series semi-final game, the players were still greeted back home with cheering crowds and a parade.

Now, some of the team members will have a chance to catch up among memorabilia from the year that put their names down in the books. An exhibit honoring the great landmarks in Warren County baseball will open to the public at the Warren Heritage Society’s Ivy Lodge headquarters at 6 p.m. today after a reunion and reception for the 1953 team.

Pitcher Giles Darr, now 74, brought in his uniform, glove and World Series program for display in the exhibition. He said that once heritage society Executive Director Patrick Farris approached him about contributing to the exhibit, Darr and his son both had to hunt down any photos and equipment that had been stored away.

“It’s real nice for the town to recognize after all these years, but the most important thing is … I think of the players that can’t be here, the ones that passed away,” he said. “You look at all these pictures and they bring back a lot of memories, that’s for sure.”

Some of the 1953 team members are deceased, but many have lost contact over the years or moved as far away as California.

Patrick Farris, executive director of the Warren Heritage Society, holds an 1897 uniform worn by Giles B. Cook that is part of the baseball memorabilia display. Rich Cooley/Daily

Mike Berryman will be traveling from South Hill, Virginia, for the reunion of once close-knit teammates who shared an experience that was, for him, the “greatest thing that ever happened to me.”

Darr agreed.

“You never forget how it was when we came back … the parade, and all those people were around and they supported us – it was amazing, really,” Darr said. “At the time, when you’re 12 years old, you don’t know.”

Berryman said the support the team received from their community set the stage for interest in local baseball programs for generations down the road.

“Of course, we had no money to travel; of course most of the kids on that ’53 team were of very modest means … and the town and the county always came together to raise money and pay for our trips,” he said.

Darr said the biggest challenge the remaining team members and their families now face is being able to match names to the faces in the photos after so many years – but the reunion may help to jog some memories.

Although two exhibit panels are devoted to the Little League semi-final win and the dedication on Bing Crosby Day in 1950, the exhibit offers a baseball timeline in Warren County from its inception around the 1880s up until the Front Royal Cardinals joined Valley League in the 1980s.

Farris began seeking out members of the 1953 team after deciding to pursue the exhibit last winter. The society already possessed a number of photographs and newspaper clippings, but Farris said he knew he would need to flesh out a full exhibit with more memorabilia.

“We really wanted to do a feature exhibit that was a little more lighthearted … and that would also serve to remind people that our institution is countywide,” he said.

The oldest artifact in the exhibit is Giles Cook’s uniform from 1897, donated to the society among a wealth of various other items. Other uniforms on display date up to the 1960s.

Some photos and newspaper clippings required scanning and copying so that the original pieces wouldn’t be partially destroyed while on display. Other than that, Farris said that a surprising number of donations and loans are in great shape – even the 1897 uniform looks clean and relatively free of moth holes.

Once it opens today, the baseball exhibit will be on display at the Ivy Lodge for a year, after which the society will document some of the artifacts and return them to their owners.

If you go: See the exhibit at the Warren Heritage Society at 101 Chester St. in Front Royal, open weekdays 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturdays seasonally 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Call 540-636-1446 for details.

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rmahoney@nvdaily.com