The national pastime has had a long and storied history in Milford, but the greatest baseball moment came in 1944 when a diving catch by Ruland Sears saved the day and the championship for the local nine.
Long before then, the game had been firmly established as Milford’s sport of choice. Just after the Civil War, four brothers named Lovejoy set up the first organized ball in town on the old militia stomping grounds near Federal Hill. But it was in the 1890s when Herbert “Doc” Hutchinson’s Milford semi-pro teams dominated. It was the height of baseball’s national popularity and it seemed that virtually every town, factory, police squad or fire brigade had a team taking the field. The Milford Granites (sometimes simply known as the "Milfords") were perennial winners. And in an era when small town baseball was about the most exciting entertainment around, a cadre of local fans hung on the Granites’ every at bat.
The team had many stars, including slugging first sacker George McIntire, the Howison Brothers’ double-play combination and ace pitcher Edward Hartshorn. They not only attracted scouts from the majors, but they also landed matchups against regional teams like the Cambridge Reds, Boston Blues, and Lynn Thomas-Electrics. The Granites were the first Milford team to play in front of a grandstand of fans after largely grading Endicott Park themselves. The team was primarily stocked with Milford boys with day jobs (one would eventually become the town postmaster), as well as the occasional well-paid "ringer" to give the team an extra lift. Semi-pro ball was never a great way to pay the bills, but local boosters did fund the team and pay out small salaries. After all, a first-place club increased civic pride as well as local business, with hundreds flocking to the games.
By the 1940s, radio, moving pictures (and soon television) would vastly reduce the popularity of semi-pro baseball. But first the local club would make a heroic run. Playing in the New Hampshire championship of 1944, Milford was tied a game apiece in a best of three series. Playing at Endicott against rival Claremont, the Milford boys took a 3-2 lead to the ninth inning, only to allow their opponents to load the bases. With one out, Claremont’s leftfielder hit a long fly ball down the right field line. As the Claremont runners streaked around the bases, expecting to take the lead, right fielder Ruland Sears made a spectacular catch. He then had the presence of mind to turn around and fire the ball to first base to complete a double-play and make Milford the state champs. Fans poured onto the field to congratulate Sears, while a contingent from Claremont headed home with heads hung low.
It may have been just semi-pro ball but for any fan at Endicott Park that day, the Milford boys were champions of the world.
The 1944 championship team. Ruland Sears is second from the left in the bottom row.