So, baseball season is over. I’m writing this the afternoon of Game 5 of the World Series and even though it has not been settled yet, I’m pretty sure the team I have cheered for all my life is not going to win. I mean, come on! This is the team my dad used to joke about and say that any team could have a bad century and the team that was famous for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory; the team that resisted putting in lights at their ballpark until 1988 and that was only because MLB threatened to force them to play elsewhere if they made it to the playoffs; the team that once lost 101 games in one season (still the worst season on record) and the team that has been cursed by a freakin’ goat of all things. Yeah, I am a die-hard, unapologetic Cubs fan.
|Not my Cubbies. This team was the NY Knickerbockers.|
Anyway, talking about baseball with another romance writer brought out the tidbit of information from my Swiss-cheese brain (bonus points if you get the reference) that baseball has been played since before the American Civil War, but it was during this bloodiest conflict in our nation’s history that baseball became an “American pastime.”
A lot of the men going off to fight in the Civil War took their own baseball equipment with them. When these men didn’t have equipment, they made do—with fence posts, barrel staves, and even tree branches. A walnut wrapped in old cloth often served as the baseball.
Both Union and Confederate officers saw playing baseball as a way to boost morale and continue both physical and mental conditioning. On the diamond, officers and enlisted men played side-by-side and men were selected for the teams based solely on their athletic ability, not by rank or social standing. The benefits of playing while at war extended well beyond the need of troops to be physically fit because the camaraderie displayed on the baseball diamond very often translated into a teamwork mentality on the battlefield. In perhaps one of the earliest forms of sports journalism soldiers would write of these games in the letters sent to friends and loved ones. Recounting baseball games for the family back home had to be a lot more pleasant to recall than the hardship of battle.
After the Civil War, baseball went west—with settlers and with the troops. It is truly a uniquely American game, well suited to our national psyche. It ain’t over until it’s over, and every man taking the field can be a hero, if the baseball gods smile upon him.