Monday, October 10, 2011

Interview with Miami Minor League Baseball Historian Kurt Schweizer - Part 1

(This post originally appeared on Bus Leagues

In an effort to continue exploring the history and impact of Minor League Baseball in Florida, I've been corresponding with Kurt Schweizer, unofficial historian of minor league baseball in Miami, especially the original Miami Marlins. With the Florida Marlins renaming themselves the "Miami Marlins" and moving into a new stadium in 2012, I thought it would be great to talk with Kurt and get his opinions of baseball in South Florida, and also learn a lot about the sport's history in the area.

You can find more of Kurt's efforts on his Original Miami Marlins Facebook page, his feature story on growing up on Miami baseball, and his photo essay of Miami Stadium.

Bus Leagues Baseball: Who is Kurt Schweizer?

Kurt Schweizer: Wow. No one has really asked me that before. Interesting question. To put it simply, I am a Christian, son, grandson, boyfriend, nephew, cousin, cat owner, writer, friend, bandmate, lyricist, drummer, photographer, student, history buff and sports fan.

BLB: You've been called one of the foremost historians of Minor League Baseball in Miami. How did you originally get into minor league baseball?

KS: I take that as quite a compliment. But, it certainly didn’t happen overnight. I’m from and have lived in Miami for the vast majority of my life but we lived in Lakeland for a short time when I was a kid. So, my dad took me to my first game at Joker Marchant Stadium in August of 1979 when I had just turned eight years old. My dad had always been into baseball a good bit from a fairly young age, but I didn’t completely take to it right away. I liked it but I wasn’t bitten by the bug just yet. But, that game planted the seed. Then, when we moved back to Miami, he and I started going to Miami Orioles games pretty regularly in 1981. And that was it for me. I have been almost obsessed ever since. (And some people would say it isn’t actually almost.) We also were season ticket holders for the University of Miami Hurricanes baseball team for about 10 years, also starting in 1981. And I was one of the original season ticket holders of the Florida Marlins, but, somehow, it was the minors that really sucked me in and kept me.

BLB: When did you start getting into the history of the teams and the facilities you visited?

KS: I had always been interested in history, in general, ever since I was a little kid. The Miami Orioles played at Miami Stadium which was a very interesting place to watch a game. It had a very interesting unique design and really reeked of history even though it, having been built only 32 years prior to my first visit, wasn’t all that old, as we think of historic stadiums today, such as Fenway and Wrigley. But, it did already have an interesting resume, if you will, that included the Major League Orioles and Dodgers for Spring Training and the old AAA and Single A Miami Marlins plus the Miami Sun Sox in the minors, as well as the short lived Amigos of the ill-fated Inter-American League. And it didn’t take long for me to start trying to learn about all that from whatever books I could get my hands on and from some of the old timer fans there. But, right away, there was something about it that sucked me in. I don’t know exactly what it was but it had a really cool aura to it. It almost seemed like a haunted house. And it was so large and cavernous for a minor league stadium. Plus it held well over 10 thousand but typically wouldn’t have any more than a hundred or so, on average, per game, for the minor league season, so I would have fun just roaming around sometimes and just checking it all out. I have never seen another minor league stadium quite like it and I have been to many. It was kind of like a ghost town, all within the confines of a single building. And that’s something that’s pretty interesting to a nine-year-old boy…at least it was to me.

Then when I was a freshman in college, I was in an elective class called “Skills and Practices in Baseball” which was right up my alley. There was some fieldwork but also a lot of textbook and classroom work in the class. For the term project I did a report on the entire history of pro ball in Miami, up to that point. And that research was pretty specialized. And since it was 1990 and pre-internet, as we know it, I had to get about 90% of the information from old local newspapers on microfilm at the library. It was very time-consuming, but was worth it. It even further sparked my interest in the history side of everything. Then I used that research as the basis for some articles that got published by the Fort Myers Miracle (formerly known as the Miami Orioles, Miami Marlins and Miami Miracle), in their programs, starting in the 1991 edition. But that first program article was more of a summary of the different Miami franchises and the different names used and Major League affiliations by year. Then, in 1998, while I was working for them full-time, I wrote a franchise history story in prose form for that year’s Miracle program which got reprinted in several other editions, over the years, as well. And I ended up doing a lot of other stories for them, mainly relating to baseball history in some way.

BLB: What projects have you been involved with in regards to the history of Miami baseball?

KS: There have been several, to varying scopes, over the past 20 years or so. Most of them revolve around the articles that I have written relating to the history of the Miracle franchise and for the Twins spring programs. But I have also written a couple articles for other projects and websites. There was also a fairly large feature story about Miami Stadium that I was interviewed for in The Miami New Times in 1996, which served as a catalyst for the PBS movie about the stadium that I was involved with as an interviewee, consultant and contributing photographer. There have been a couple other projects that I have consulted on, including ones for the Florida Marlins and Major League Baseball and with a couple museums. And on top of that I am working on a doctoral dissertation revolving around Minor League Baseball and Spring Training in Florida, which I hope to one day turn into a book. I also have a page on facebook, relating to the history of the Miami Marlins and Minor League Baseball in Miami. I have some pictures I took, along with contributions from others, on that site and there are two fairly large galleries of my pics on two other websites.

BLB: What has been the reception to your projects?

KS: I would say it’s been pretty favorable. I haven’t really had people beating down my door, but I have gotten a lot of emails from fans and even a couple from players, relatives of players, and staff, from all over the country (and even one from the UK), telling me that they enjoy my articles and pictures. So, I always like that. I also was contacted by Roy Firestone, whom had been a batboy for the Orioles in Spring Training when he was a kid. That was really nice. We’ve yet to meet in person, but he was also in the same PBS film as myself. And I am always happy to be asked to do various projects and writings here and there.

(Part 2 and Part 3 coming later this week. Stay tuned!)