SOUTH CHATHAM It's been said that one person's trash is another's recycled treasure, and that's even true of a withered, rusty and ramshackle scoreboard.
Just ask John and Janet Newton.
The longtime Chatham A's supporters and owners of School House Ice Cream in South Chatham recently returned from Cooperstown, N.Y., where they donated the old A's scoreboard to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
"A number of professional ball players, including Albert Belle and Jeff Bagwell [who played for Chatham in 1987], played in the shadow of this scoreboard," said John. "We rescued it from the trash bin years ago and didn't want to see it end up there again."
The 11-foot long and seven-and-a-half feet high scoreboard, a gift donated to the town of Chatham by Joseph Trethaway, sat on posts behind the left field fence at Veterans Field for roughly 20 years (1971-1991).
After attrition took its toll on the big green hit, run and error indicator, Parks and Recreation Commissioner Dan Tobin was about to take it to the dump to be chopped up and used for sheet metal.
That's when Janet asked Tobin if he would deliver it instead to her husband as a 30th wedding anniversary gift. He complied and the structure sat in a side room at the Newton's ice cream shop as they attempted to make repairs.
"It had a lot of metal fatigue and needed restoration, but the electronics on it worked," Janet said. "The problem was, some of the cups that were used to hold the light bulbs needed replacing, and the company that made the scoreboard didn't manufacture that part anymore, so we had to improvise. We ate a lot of canned peas."
The initial idea, the Newtons said, was to put the scoreboard outside their shop to flash the scores of the A's game from downtown.
"There was the feeling on our part that if we did that, we might've run afoul of the town's sign codes regulations," said Janet. "But we never got far along enough in restoring the scoreboard to even ask for the town's permission."
With that, the sedentary scoreboard became a glorified space eater. When the Newton's looked into selling their shop last year, "it created the question, what do we do with this thing'" said John.
On a whim, he sent an e-mail to Baseball Hall of Fame Registrar Susan MacKay, asking her if the they'd have any interest in the A's artifact ("The Cape League Hall of Fame had first shot at it, but they said it was too big for them," the Newtons explained).
"Within an hour, I got a return e-mail from Susan," John said. "She said, thank you of making us aware of this gem. Up until that point, I called the scoreboard a lot of things, but gem was not one of them."
The Newton disassembled the scoreboard into seven pieces to fit in their truck, and "a burned up fan belt and blown muffler later, we got to Cooperstown," John said. "They were very gracious, you'd think you were delivering the Holy Grail."
The Baseball Hall of Fame, MacKay said, receives relics on a daily basis. "We have bats, gloves, jerseys, shoes, catcher's equipment, seats and turnstiles from old stadiums, tickets stubs and programs, and even stadium giveaways, from towels to Beanie Babies. You name it, we collect it."
That said, their assembly of Cape League memorabilia is modest at best, containing only some eight millimeter film of the league from the 1960s and a few books about the league in its library. The scoreboard, therefore, was a big boon not only in structure, but scope.
"It's a very important piece of baseball history because the Cape League was and continues to be instrumental in skyrocketing a number of player's careers," said MacKay. "It was certainly something we didn't feel belonged in the garbage, so we wanted to retrieve and preserve it."
The Hall of Fame, after all, restored a Pennsylvania-based and hand-operated scoreboard from the 1920s, which traveled the country as part of an exhibition tour for eight years (1996-2002).
"We one day hope to reassemble the pieces of the A's scoreboard, but it's really up to the curators and their plans for the exhibition program," said MacKay. "They work about five years out, so there are no immediate plans to fix it up, but it would be nice one day to highlight that part of baseball history."
If and when that day comes, the Newtons who now have lifetime passes to the Hall of Fame thanks to their generous gift will be there, but they're not holding their breathe.
"We know they may never use it," the Newtons said, "but we're were happy to see it ultimately ended up in a protected environment."