By Bill Ross
With winter finally releasing its grip on Morgan Valley, we will witness an amazing transformation. Many of us trade our snow shovels in for garden shovels. Some store their snowmobiles for the winter and load up four-wheelers for a trip to the dunes. Still others will trade snowboards and ski’s for their hiking boots and backpacks.
There is also a group of people who trade their basketballs or wrestling shoes for baseball gloves and bats. For many in this valley baseball is more than a casual activity to fill long summer evenings. It is a passion. The crack of the bat and the smell of leather is a sound that resonates to the core of those who have learned to love and understand the game. To them baseball is more than hitting a ball and chasing bases. As James Earl Jones so eloquently said in the movie Field of Dreams, “Baseball, reminds us of all that was good and can be again”.
Over the next several weeks I will attempt to give the history of baseball in Morgan County. This attempt will combine two things I am passionate about; history and baseball. This endeavor would be impossible without the help of a book about the history of baseball in Morgan County. It was a cooperative project of Paul Stewart, The Morgan County Historical Society and The Friends of the Historical Society. While the book is far from exhaustive it does give a glimpse into the past of many of the men, and some women, who played this game for the love of it and the entertainment of those in the communities that make up Morgan County.
In this initial article I will give a brief historical overview of baseball and its origins. The question of the origins of baseball has been the subject of debate and controversy for more than a century. Baseball as well as the other modern bat, ball and running games, cricket and rounders, was developed from earlier folk games.
Americans played a version of the English game rounder in the early 19th century which they called “Town Ball.” In fact, early forms of baseball had a number of names, including “Base Ball,” “Goal Ball,” “Round Ball,” “Fletch-catch,” “Stool Ball,” and, simply, “Base.” In at least one version of the game, teams pitched to themselves, runners went around the bases in the opposite direction of today’s game, and players could be put out by being hit with the ball. Like today, a batter was called out after three strikes.
Few details of how the modern games developed from earlier folk games are known. Some think that various folk games resulted in a game called town ball from which baseball was eventually born. Others believe that town ball was independent from baseball.
Next week: Baseball and Morgan County