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Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Baseball in the Old West

By Kristy McCaffrey

The earliest known mention of baseball in the United States was in 1791 in Massachusetts. In 1845, the New York Knickerbockers was the first team to play by modern baseball rules, although it was considered an amateur club and far less popular than the game of cricket. But following the Civil War, over 100 clubs were members of the National Association of Base Ball Players (NABBP). The Chicago White Stockings won the championship in 1870. Today they’re known as the Chicago Cubs and are the oldest team in American organized sports.

One of the first games played in the Arizona Territory was a Christmas Day match at Camp Grant near Tucson in January 1873. A Prescott paper, the Arizona Miner, reported, “In the afternoon, an exciting game of base ball took place. This occupied the attention, [of] both of the combatants, until one o’clock, when the welcome call to dinner was wafted to our ears, and readily responded to.”

San Diego and Coronado teams, circa 1873.
Baseball became a holiday fixture (Fourth of July and Christmas Day) for many young communities in the Arizona Territory in the 1870’s and early 1880’s. Matches tended to be played in the winter or early spring, with Christmas an especially favorite day for the sport.

Baltimore Orioles, circa 1896.
On April 10, 1887, the Phoenix baseball club, with a number of its players from Ft. McDowell, played Fort Lowell from Tucson at the territorial fairgrounds with an audience of around 200 people (back then, fans were nicknamed ‘kranks’). A severe wind and sand storm delayed the match for half an hour and blowing sand remained a problem during the first few innings. The Phoenicians, outfitted with “considerable good material here in ball tossers” defeated the “boys in blue” 14-7. At one point in the eighth inning, the crowd surrounding the field made so much noise that the local players couldn’t hear their coaches’ directions and instead of scoring a possible three runs, only marked a single tally.

By 1900, amateur football had become popular and replaced baseball as the traditional game played on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Kristy McCaffrey has been writing since she was very young, but it wasn’t until she was a stay-at-home mom that she considered becoming published. She’s the author of several historical western romances, all set in the American southwest. She lives in the Arizona desert with her husband, two chocolate labs, and whichever of their four teenage children happen to be in residence.

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  1. Kristy, We still play the 'old-fashioned' style of base ball on Memorial Day here at Rock Ledge Ranch (a living history museum). Having grown up with softball and baseball, these are some fun games to watch. Some folks even dress in their 1800's finery. Oh the memories. Doris

  2. Kristy,

    Two things made me chuckle:
    The first one is: "This occupied the attention, [of] both of the combatants..." There's a play on the word bat/batting in that commentary. The second is that the fans were called 'kranks'. I wonder what the story is behind that nickname?

    My eye-hand coordination was never the best, so back in school when teams were divvied-up for softball, I was invariably one of the last to be chosen. That was okay with me, because playing any kind of sport was not my forte. lol

    1. Kaye,
      I wasn't very sporty either as a kid and actually dreaded playing softball in P.E.