Officials and historians in the western Massachusetts city of Pittsfield released a 213-year-old document Tuesday that they believe is the earliest written reference to baseball.
Their pitch to rewrite the sport's history is based on a 1791 ordinance that aims to protect the windows in Pittsfield's new meeting house by prohibiting anyone from playing baseball within 80 yards of the building.
"It's clear that not only was baseball played here in 1791, but it was rampant," baseball historian John Thorn said Tuesday at a City Hall news conference to announce the find. "It was rampant enough to have an ordinance against it."
The document - dug out of an archive vault at the Berkshire Athenaeum library in Pittsfield - is the earliest known written reference to baseball, predating the next known documentation of the game by three decades.
"Pittsfield is baseball's Garden of Eden," Mayor James Ruberto said.
But it was an Eden that was stumbled upon accidentally by a historian with insomnia.
The long-accepted and recently disputed story of baseball's origins centers around Cooperstown, where Abner Doubleday is said to have come up with the rules for the modern game in 1839.
That legend long legitimized the National Baseball Hall of Fame's presence in Cooperstown, although later evidence pointed to the first real game being played in Hoboken, N.J., in 1846.
And in 2001, a librarian at New York University came across two newspaper articles published on April 25, 1823 that show an organized form of a game called "base ball" was being played in Manhattan.
The Pittsfield group said they hope their find will put to rest once and for all the debate about the game's origins, but they acknowledge it may just be a matter of time before they're one-upped by another town.
"Pittsfield is baseball's birthplace until further notice," Thorn said. "We know that baseball was like a field of dandelions in the late 1700s and early 1800s - it was growing up everywhere."