An Off-Season Project: Colorizing Swampoodle Grounds

For an off-season baseball project, I've decided to develop a new skill by colorizing an old black & white photograph of Swampoodle Grounds, Washington's baseball park of the 1880s. I've never colorized a black and white photo before, so I found a website that had a step-by-step tutorial,

There are two photos of Swampooodle that I know of. One features the Capitol dome over the right field wall, the other is of the infield and left field (and the B&O rail yard beyond). I'm using the more familiar photo of the park with the Capitol dome looming in the background. Well, more familiar to me; that's my desktop wallpaper at work, as it combines my three loves (history, politics, and baseball) into a single image.

Swampoodle was a pretty small park for the era — 325 in right, 375 in center, and 275 in left (because of the DC street grid). Other parks of the era (Brooklyn, Chicago, Pittsburgh) had center fields that approached six hundred feet deep; Swampoodle was tiny by comparison, more like its contemporary the Baker Bowl in Philadelphia than Brooklyn's Washington Park. There was one major difference between Swampoodle and its National League contemporaries, though. Swampoodle had no grandstand. It was an infield, an outfield wall, and a clubhouse.

There are a few things I noticed in working with the photo that I hadn't realized before.

First, it's not a photograph of a game. For a long time I'd assumed that it was a photograph of throwing the runner out at first. But it's not. It's a practice. There are a couple of baseballs on the outfield grass near the first baseman. The right fielder has just thrown the ball (and, from his stance, toward the infield). One of the players near second base is actually carrying the bag. What's happening, then, is players warming up, getting the field ready, and running some infield drills.

Second, the photograph was taken early in the year. There are trees beyond the outfield wall, and they don't have leaves yet. One possibility is that the photograph shows an early morning, pre-game practice in April. Another is that it's a late March pre-season team practice. Based on shadows, it's also pretty early in the morning. and there's either fog or steam from a passing train beyond the outfield wall in right.

Third, there are people watching beyond the outfield wall. Besides the two standing above the fence in center, and there's someone in the left window of the tower at McDowell & Sons (the building in right center).

It's been an interesting learning process. To get green-ish (and, dare I say it, sickly) looking grass, I've had to use a pale yellow mask; even a light green made grass that looked too dark and healthy. (They couldn't exactly go down to Lowe's in 1886 and buy Scott's Turf Builder.) The Capitol dome is tricky to work with (since it fades into the sky), so I've had to clone the dome and flip it so I have a complete dome to work with.

I'm nowhere near done with the colorization, and I'm not planning on working on it intensely. Steadily will suffice, it will take my mind off of the NLDS, and by opening day I'll have a new desktop wallpaper, same as the old, but this time in color. :)

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