Bruce Cohen was a 13- or 14-year old Prince George’s County kid when he asked his dad for an 8 millimeter home movie camera as a gift. And he wasn’t much older than that when he brought his new camera to RFK Stadium for a Senators baseball clinic and a Senators baseball game.
He came away with a couple minutes of footage, which probably wasn’t terribly unusual. The unusual part was that he held onto that silent footage for 50 years, converting it along the way to a VHS cassette and then to an mp4, and categorizing it along with all the other photos and videos he has taken as an amateur photographer. And when the latest wave of RFK nostalgia hit this month — sparked by D.C. United’s final game as the stadium’s final full-time tenant — Cohen put the footage on YouTube and sent it around.
It can be seen here, and it’s kind of awesome: the kids in their dark-framed glasses and name tags, the players in their Curly Ws, Ted Williams stalking around, the vendors hawking 1960s concessions in 1960s uniforms, the batting practice, the players running out to their positions, and especially the stadium, less than a decade old and still sparkling.
RFK now, of course, is a shell of what it once was, and while that makes it retro and charming and lovable, there’s also something sad about it. Listen to John Riggins, who recently described his last experience at RFK during a conversation on ESPN 98o.
“I got there, and it was almost like — I don’t want to say heartbreaking, because it wasn’t that impactful — but at the same time, there was a disappointment. Because RFK was in tatters. I mean, all the metal, the paint, the rust — I mean, it looked like a lot of bridges you see around the country, where all the paint had fallen off. And I went, ‘Oh my God, what’s happened here.’ … This is my personal opinion: It was almost like flying a tattered flag. When a flag has been flying so long it starts to get all ripped, you’ve got to take it down. And RFK, same way. That thing looked so pathetic, it was like demolish it, raze it right now, get rid of it. Either that, or put some paint back on this thing.”
That’s sort of a side note, but the place certainly wasn’t tattered in Cohen’s archival footage. His father used to work for Giant supermarkets, and Dial Soap used to sponsor kids clinics with the Senators, which meant that Dial started inviting business partners — including the Cohen family — to those clinics at RFK from the time Bruce was about 10, in the mid-60s. This footage came several years later (Williams arrived to manage the team in 1969.)
“I just remember my dad being there, and that we got to talk to the Senators,” he told me this week. “I believe we went to the dugout. There was no security or anything back then, and they pretty much let you go wherever you wanted. We went to the locker rooms. That’s the kind of stuff that stands out in your mind.”
Years later, Cohen got involved with the Washington Baseball Historical Society, which sponsored a reunion of the 1969 Senators. The late George Michael was doing a piece on Williams around the same time, and he found out that Cohen had this archival footage. So Cohen presented his old VHS tape to Michael, and the clip appeared in that piece and in subsequent pieces about D.C. baseball history. But when RFK reentered the news this fall, Cohen decided to put the entire clip online.
“Most people don’t keep that stuff; they lose it or throw it away,” he said. “But I’m actually a photographer; I keep everything, I categorize everything. That’s why I was able to find it. … Even my brothers, they forgot about it. But it brings back a lot of good memories.”