The time for preparation was drawing to a close. It was mid-July, 1917, and on August 5, the young men – most of them Mormons – who would be members of the 145 Field Artillery – were due to leave their homes and formally enter the U.S. Army. They would train at Fort Kearney, near Linda Vista, California, then months later they would sail to France, prepared for war. With them would be B.H. Roberts, their chaplain.
“A chaplain in the army,” Roberts wrote, “as I understand it, is the fellow who, in addition to the praying and preaching and helping every fellow who gets into trouble and shares everybody’s troubles, may also look after their amusements and guide their sports.” One of the best activities, Roberts decided, would be baseball – not only would the men enjoy the friendly competition and the exercise the game provided, directing their play would increase his opportunities to mingle with them and minister to them. “Providing this means of wholesome amusement for the men of the Utah batteries will make one of many approaches for me to their hearts.”
But baseball is an equipment-intensive sport, and each of the six batteries under his charge would need a full set of equipment. “Each outfit will be12 suits (cap, shirt, trousers, socks, gloves, spike shoes), twelve assorted bats to each battery; 12 balls; one breast protector; one catcher’s mask, and outfit for umpires – for we will not want to kill off any one in our batteries, not even umpires.”
Roberts visited the various dealers in Salt Lake City and placed his large orders … and learned that it would cost about $1,000 to fill them. So he began calling on his friends, making a personal appeal for donations. He went to Robert W. Sloan, who contributed $100. William H. Dale wrote out a check for $25. And at that point Roberts realized that he didn’t have the time to make 20 or 30 calls to collect the full amount. He needed the help of someone who was as wealthy as he was generous, who could underwrite the entire project. Who could he turn to, he wondered …
Jesse Knight! That was the ticket. Knight – born in Nauvoo, son of early Church member Newell Knight – had made his fortune in mining. He had willingly shared that wealth with others, writing that “The earth is the Lord’s bank, and no man has a right to take money out of that bank and use it extravagantly upon himself.” He had contributed heavily to BYU and to the Church on more than one occasion when they were in desperate condition. During times of depression, he had invested his wealth to open businesses to provide work for the unemployed in and around Provo. He even paid to build a new road between Provo and Springville, simply to provide jobs for those in need.
And now Chaplain Roberts turned to “Uncle Jesse” and to his son, Will. He wrote:
The whole outfit will cost about $900 to $1,000. Now I am putting the matter up to you to see what you will do about it, and I am praying that the Lord will put it into your heart and your son Will’s to shoulder up the whole load and walk away with it, as I have not the time to go about the town and gather it up little by little among my friends. Pardon the boldness with which I make this request, it is because it is for the diversion and benefit of the young men of whom, in a sense, I am to have charge for the next year or two that I am able to present the case to you.
Thanking you in advance for what you may feel moved upon to do in this matter.
The Knights responded immediately.
Your letter of July 19, addressed jointly to us, is received, and we take pleasure in enclosing our checks herewith for $1,000. After a lifetime’s training, it comes natural to follow instructions from one’s spiritual advisor. Laying all joking aside, we are glad to assist in furnishing this wholesome form of amusement and recreation for our boys, and sincerely trust that the ideal back of your request will take hold of the boys themselves and give them power to select forms of amusement that will keep them clean and wholesome.
Wishing you and Utah’s contingent all the good fortune that may come to desiring patriots.
Their letter was accompanied by a $750 from Jesse, and a $250 check from Will. The boys would have their baseball.
Roberts thanked the Knights with this acknowledgment:
I want to thank you in behalf of the Utah batteries and for myself for the splendid gift of $1,000 to enable the chaplain of the batteries supplying complete baseball outfits for each of the six Utah batteries. It was a splendid and generous thing for you to do. And what was more than the gift itself was the fine spirit in which you responded to my appeal. The sentiments you expressed in relation to the battery “boys” – “our boys” – will have a fine moral effect. Your letter shall be read to them on a suitable occasion, and we will then in a more formal manner, make our acknowledgments of your generosity.
I’ve titled this post as another in the “Chaplain B.H. Roberts” series, and of course the idea of equipping the Mormon batteries to play baseball was his initiative. But of course equal or greater credit goes to Jesse and Will Knight – and Robert Sloan and William Dale – for turning the idea into reality.
Earlier posts in this series:
Chaplain B.H. Roberts Leads a March of the Mormon Battalion
Chaplain B.H. Roberts Leads Memorial Services
Chaplain B.H. Roberts Eulogizes the Dead
Chaplain B.H. Roberts Pleads for the Lives of His Men