I noticed the mural on the side of a building as we pulled into the parking lot behind Nashua City Hall.
It was of legendary Brooklyn Dodgers Don Newcombe and Roy Campanella, commemorating their time playing minor-league ball in the city.
I thought it was interesting, and made a mental note to check it out when we came back, but we had another matter to attend to first.
Nashua is just over the border in New Hampshire, about 45 minutes from our house, and we were there because Suzi was working on a project for a board she’s a part of where she catalogued pieces of public art throughout the city.
I figured I’d just tag along and see what Nashua was like, since I had never been, but it was hard not to get caught up in the scavenger hunt. Some of the sculptures were out in the open, but murals were hidden on the sides of buildings or on upper floors, so we had to keep our eyes open to spot them.
It was pretty neat, and as it turned out, the mural of Campanella and Newcombe was part of the tour, so we both gave it a gander before heading home.
“That first year the Dodgers sent us to Nashua, New Hampshire. Don Newcombe was there with me. And there was a reason we had to go to Nashua. Jackie (Robinson) was running into a problem at Daytona Beach because people didn’t want him training with Montreal, and so Mr. (Branch) Rickey told me about Jackie’s problems and asked me to stay up north until he could find a team for me to play on.” …
… “It wasn’t bad at Nashua. Going around the different towns, you would always find a few who would holler smart remarks out to you, but it made our teammates notice and realize how people could be, and they just hoped it wouldn’t bother me, and they’d come to me and say, ‘Just pay them no mind,’ I thought they were tremendous.”
— Roy Campanella, from “Bums” by Peter Golenbock
When you live a stone’s throw from Concord and a couple throws from Lexington — yes, that Concord and that Lexington — most of the history in these parts is of the American Revolution variety.
But even though I consider myself pretty well-versed in baseball history, I hadn’t known that with Campanella and Newcombe on the roster, the Nashua Dodgers were the first integrated affiliated professional baseball team in America in the 20th century, since Robinson was in Montreal.
In addition to being the only non-Southern option once the Dodgers were informed the pair would not be welcome on their farm team in Danville, Illinois, it also apparently worked in Nashua’s favor that the city had a sizable French-Canadian population.
As Suzi and I studied the mural, which wrapped around the side of the building, we learned that Campanella’s and Newcombe’s home ballpark of Holman Stadium was still standing … and it was only about a mile away, so …
… you can probably guess what happened next.
The Dodgers only lasted a few years in Nashua, and teams came and left in the following decades, but Holman is now home to a summer college league team.
We weren’t able to see too much of the stadium — the locked doors on the chain-link fence and barbed wire on top saw to that — but really affordable baseball, 45 minutes from where we live?
Count me in.
We’ll probably be there this summer, watching college kids on the same field where Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe made history … a history that I wouldn’t have known about had Suzi not had her project and we had done something else that morning.