Local Ball

book covers turn-of-the-century baseball in EC

Thom Fountain, photos by Andrea Paulseth

CURIOSITY ABOUT THE BAT. Jason Christopherson’s new book covers local baseball from 1886 to 1912.
CURIOSITY ABOUT THE BAT. Jason Christopherson’s new book covers local
baseball from 1886 to 1912.

The game of baseball has an unnatural pull. The rich history of America’s pastime attracts many people to embrace the culture beyond casual fandom or even diehard devotion, but as a lifetime pursuit.

Jason Christopherson is one of those people.

Christopherson has played, coached, and watched baseball for most his life, and now he writes about it. His first book, Baseball In Eau Claire, was a 2003 collection of historical photographs that Christopherson compiled and captioned for Arcadia Publishing.

But for his newest work, Christopherson dug in deeper to write a comprehensive history of turn-of-the-century baseball in our fair city. Diamonds In Clear Water walks you from 1886 to 1912 in a collection of stories, recaps and profiles that put you right along the rough-and-tough ballplayers of the era.

“There were guys that played in Eau Claire on a Sunday and were in the majors two days later – that’s how different things were back then,” Christopherson said. “These stories just had to be shared. This book does that – in many cases for the first time in a century.”

“There were guys that played in Eau Claire on a Sunday and were in the majors two days later – that’s how different things were back then. These stories just had to be shared.”
– Jason Christopherson, on early baseball in Eau Claire

Christopherson was certainly not new to baseball when he started writing and researching. He learned to play from his older brother Travis and went on to play high school ball at Eleva-Strum. After deciding to not play college ball (a decision he still regrets), he stayed connected to the game by coaching, which leads us right up to today where he’s an assistant coach with the Osseo-Fairchild team (and he’ll proudly tell you they made it to state last year).

Before getting into the book business, Christopherson’s historical strength was in the Northern League – which ran a bit later, from 1933-62 – but in his research for the comprehensive Baseball In Eau Claire, he found something special about the early days. Baseball was so new that every player seemed to bring something new to the game – possibly something that had never been seen or done before.

“A good chunk of the players with major league experience had a unique twist,” Christopherson said. “One guy was the first to have a pinch hit. Another was one of the first to use a catcher’s mitt.”

But if you ask Christopherson about baseball history, you better bet he’ll mention one guy: Russ Bailey. Bailey began his career in 1901 playing amateur ball in Eau Claire, starting his long, illustrious career that makes him – according to Christopherson – Eau Claire’s Mr. Baseball.

“Every spring, the talk of the town would be whether or not Russ would be back or if some other team higher up the chain would discover our secret and whisk him away,” Christopherson said. “I have a feeling he never wanted to be away from Eau Claire.” Christopherson has made it his goal to get Russ Bailey a plaque in Carson Park, which Christopherson says he certainly deserves.

Now that he’s finished Diamonds In Clear Water, Christopherson certainly isn’t slowing down. He’s looking into his next volume, either digging into the next chapter of Eau Claire baseball history or shifting his focus and exploring the history of teams in Trempealeau County.

Either way, you better believe Christopherson isn’t forgetting about baseball anytime soon.

Diamonds In Clear Water is available at The Local Store, 205 N. Dewey St.

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