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A few months back, I wrote about a boy from Woonsocket who became a Major League baseball player. That boy’s name was Napoleon Lajoie. And not only did he play in the Major Leagues, he became one of baseball first superstars as well as being voted one of the top 100 players of all time (in 1998) by Sporting News. A baseball player from Woonsocket, RI who achieved great things on and off the field is certainly worthy of recognition and can be a shining example of how hard work, determination, and character can help you achieve great things. Even after close to 100 years after he played his last game.
His story is best told by local baseball historian, Greg Rubano, who heads the “Unearthing Our Treasure: Napoleon Lajoie” Task Force. Rubano has authored several books on Lajoie and continues to educate students on his incredible accomplishments as a boy with humble beginnings to his meteoric rise to stardom as a baseball player. Rubano’s educational pieces are aimed to inspire children to dream big, no matter what their situation might be. Here is more from Greg Rubano on why unearthing the story of Napoleon Lajoie is so important to him:
“All kids especially need heroes. That one such hero came from Woonsocket, from their city/state helps to make that hero that much more real, believable and inspiring. However impressive were Napoleon’s achievements on the diamond, equally important was the nature of the man. Because of the presentations and outreach, kids come to realize the importance of being like Napoleon Lajoie, humble and kind hearted, appreciative, devoted to your community, unwilling to give up your dream despite many struggles and disadvantages. They know that someday they could be the one standing in front of kids like themselves eager to realize that they can achieve their goals and contribute to their community.”
The “Unearthing Our Treasure: Napoleon Lajoie” task force consists of Woonsocket civic leaders, baseball fans, as well as local and professional baseball organizations. The mission statement of the task force is “Inspiring community pride through educating the Rhode Island community of the achievements and character of Hall of Fame Woonsocket-born Napoleon Lajoie, baseball’s first superstar.” The educational component of this initiative, according to Rubano, has reached an astounding 2,800 Woonsocket fifth graders over last 4 years. In addition, the task force has been at the center of procurement of a Verizon Community Support grant to expand Woonsocket youth outreach as part of Woonsocket Proud program through presentations/books/ curriculum development in collaboration with Woonsocket School System. And the message has extended to others in the Rhode Island through community and state wide in-persona presentations on Lajoie at local Rotaries, libraries, the Museum of Work and Culture, the American French Genealogical Society as well as the Blackstone River Tours Pawtucket Tourism.
There have been “Lajoie Day” and “Lajoie Night” games at both Fenway Park and Rhode Island’s McCoy Stadiums hosted by the Boston Red Sox and Pawtucket Red Sox, respectively. The Woonsocket Little League field, as part of the initiative of the task force, was renamed/rededicated as “Lajoie Field.” The Pawtucket Red Sox organization, which donated funds through the Red Sox Foundation, helped build a press box at Lajoie Field, home of Woonsocket Little League. Here is the PawSox’s Joseph Bradlee, Director of Communications and Community Relations on why this task force is important. “Rhode Island is fortunate to have been home to one of the greatest baseball players who ever lived. The PawSox have always been happy to promote and raise awareness for Nap Lajoie, particularly with our youth, and will always continue to do so during our time at McCoy Stadium.”
Many prominent local Woonsocket leaders, in addition to Greg Rubano, are active in the “Unearthing Our Treasure” task force. The mayor of Woonsocket, Lisa Baldelli-Hunt, was kind enough to say a few words about her involvement. The task force’s initiatives “underscore the importance of sharing with the community of children and adults the history and background of one of the finest baseball players of the sport. It also stresses the commitment and the perseverance he embodied to overcome many obstacles and setbacks he encountered on the path to making his dreams become realities. This is an important message for adults and kids alike.” I mentioned to Greg that I was so impressed that the Mayor of Woonsocket had such a strong grasp of why the initiative was so vital to the community of Woonsocket.
Another distinguished member of the task for is Ann Conway, Director of the Museum of Work and Culture in Woonsocket. The Museum of Work and Culture has hosted presentations by Greg Rubano and others on Napoleon Lajoie for years and their dedication to the community and history of Woonsocket is second to none. Here is more from Ann Conway. “The in-persona Napoleon Lajoie presentations and program outreach to students and teachers is one of the most important parts of our Woonsocket Proud outreach. Over the past four years, over 2,000 Woonsocket fifth graders have been inspired by Napoleon Lajoie’s Horatio Alger story. Curriculum materials have been developed for and by those schools so the message can be embedded. Through presentations at the Museum, in rotaries and in libraries in Woonsocket and across Rhode island, The Unearthing Our Treasure: Napoleon Lajoie programs have enriched the understandings and developed the community pride of many civic-minded adults and developed a groundswell of support for a figure worthy of recognition.”
Here is quote from Ray Bacon, historian laureate of Woonsocket and “Unearthing Our Treasure: Napoleon Lajoie” Task Force member. “Baseball is an important and formative part of Woonsocket history, dating back to 1867. I remember first hearing of Napoleon Lajoie as a youngster in the 1940’s. My dad showed me a picture of Lajoie in his dark uniform. He looked like a champion. My heart swelled with pride. I joined the Task Force because I wanted Lajoie’s presence to be so well known that every kid and adult in Woonsocket and RI to feel that pride. From dedication of Napoleon Lajoie field, to Museum presentations to kids and adults, to Woonsocket Little Leaguers wearing a hat with “Nap” on it, we are well on our way with more to come.“
In addition to those mentioned here in this article, the task force consists of members from Woonsocket Little League, the American French Genealogical Society, Blackstone Valley Tourism Council, Woonsocket School Department, and the City of Woonsocket. All of the task force members are passionate about promoting the incredible story of one of their own, Woonsocket’s Napoleon Lajoie.
And there is exciting news to come for the “Unearthing Our Treasure: Napoleon Lajoie” initiative. A proposed life size statue honoring the accomplishments of Nap Lajoie is in the works and a replica has already been produced. Local sculptor and artist, Gage Prentiss, has been tasked to create this incredible tribute to one of baseball’s finest players. According to Greg Rubano, the statue “will stand as a testament of the nature of the man Napoleon Lajoie, as well as a recognition of is incredible baseball feats of the Emperor of the Diamond, Napoleon Lajoie.”
If you would like more information on the “Unearthing Our Treasure: Napoleon Lajoie” task force, please feel free to contact me. Their educational programs continue to inspire the youth of Woonsocket, RI as well as baseball fans throughout the state of Rhode Island. With distinguished civic and business leaders on the task force, the positive momentum of honoring Napoleon Lajoie through field dedications, youth programs, and now this new statue project is just incredible. I will be announcing a fundraising campaign in the months to come for any individual, business, or non-profit organization to get involved with the created and completion of this life size statue of Napoleon Lajoie.
Thank you to all of the task force members for your dedication to honoring Woonsocket’s Napoleon Lajoie, baseball’s first superstar. If you would like to learn more, send me your email address and I will forward to the task force.