Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

At its grass roots, baseball is just fun

Cover of the book Grassroots Baseball, a collection of photos and essays that “celebrate and illuminate grassroots baseball in the small towns and large cities that connect historic Route 66.” (Courtesy Jean Fruth/Grassroots Baseball)
Baseball’s an easy game to love.

One that brings smiles to the faces of children and adults.

Tuesday night, for instance, UNM Lobo football coach Danny Gonzales was grinning ear to ear posing for a picture with his wife, Sandra, after the Albuquerque native caught a 7th inning foul ball at Isotopes Park while watching his home team Isotopes beat visiting Salt Lake , 5-1.A kid from the Tesuque Pueblo throws to first during a pickup game after the intersquad game on July 4, 2021, at the pueblo. Some members of the pueblo play in the All Indian League, an adult baseball league that includes pueblos across New Mexico. This was the first time the Tesuques had played a game since the start of COVID-19 in March 2020. (Photo courtesy Jean Fruth/ Grassroots Baseball)

Those stories, those moments — the ones sometimes off the beaten path from the Major League stadiums and not shown on national television broadcasts — are the ones world-renowned photographer Jean Fruth has tried to capture through the years, including in her new book “Grassroots Baseball: Route 66”, which she produced along with Jeff Idelson, former president of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

“As I travel around shooting the Major League game and the professional game, I always take time to shoot the amateur game,” said Fruth. “That’s where the love of the game for me is.”

Fruth and Idelson co-founded Grassroots Baseball, a non-profit aimed at promoting amateur baseball around the world that has, among other things, run clinics around the country for underprivileged communities.

While traveling across the country working those clinics, Fruth and Idelson decided to dedicate a book to shining a light on the game being played in those towns — big and small — all along the historic highway that runs from Chicago to California, including right through the heart of the Land of Enchantment.

“We thought starting on Route 66 — it doesn’t get more Americana than that,” Fruth said.

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The book — Fruth’s images throughout, a preface by Idelson and a collection of essays from baseball legends from the states along Route 66 — is on sale at grassrootsbaseball.org. Copies pre-signed by Fruth, Idelson and Hall of Fame pitcher Greg Maddux, who will be at Wednesday’s Isotopes game, have been sold on the Isotopes website for the past two weeks.From left, Kasen Ernst, Landon Brown and Ryan Trujillo with the Albuquerque Baseball Academy 9U Sluggers, marvel at a snake during a visit to the Rattlesnake Museum on November 07, 2020, in Albuquerque. The image is part of the Grassroots Baseball book. (Courtesy Jean Fruth/Grassroots Baseball)

Guest essays throughout the book about each of the eight states along the historic highway are part of the book, including submissions from Jim Thome, Johnny Bench, George Brett and Ryan Howard.

To highlight the New Mexico chapter in the book, the pair called on the only active player they used in the book, Albuquerque’s own and current Houston Astro Alex Bregman. Other chapters are written by baseball hall of famers and legends.

“We wanted somebody who could really speak to the region for each of the eight states who had great stories. And there was no one who’s going to have better stories than Alex,” Idelson said, who added he first met Bregman when asking him for his glove to place in the Baseball Hall of Fame after the Astros won the 2017 World Series.

While Idelson and Fruth even ventured off the traditional Route 66 path and photographed baseball being played on the Tesuque Pueblo near Santa Fe — “a lot of people don’t realize Route 66 originally went through Santa Fe and changed its course later,” Idelson noted — Bregman covered the bases of baseball all over his home state and shared memories of the Balloon Fiesta, his favorite breakfast burritos and even Old Town’s Rattlesnake Museum, all found along Route 66.Taco, green chile and red chile pose for a photo before the Isotopes chile pepper race during the game on June 27, 2021, at Isotopes Park. The image is part of Jean Fruth’s book, Grassroots Baseball. (Photo courtesy Jean Fruth/ Grassroots Baseball)

“He just wrote this terrific essay about baseball and growing up on Route 66, in New Mexico and in Albuquerque,” Fruth said. “I didn’t think he was going to have so many memories of Route 66 and tying it in, but he had just wonderful memories. …It was just really well done.”

MADDUX ON DECK: Maddux, who Idelson said he wanted to be part of the duo’s book tour and picked Albuquerque as the city he wanted to be a part of, will have a private meet and greet at the game with people who pre-purchased a copy of the book from the Isotopes websites before Wednesday’s game.

Maddux will also be throwing out the first pitch at the game, which starts at 6:35 pm

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