Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Young Men Had A Game Of Ball

Illinois State University, or, as we like to call it, ISU

In the month of June, 1858, the Normal students had an excursion to view the site of the future seat of learning, and on their return the young men had a game of ball on the green grass where now we see the business part of the town, and the site was one of the best that could possibly be imagined for that purpose.  The writer has a distinct and vivid remembrance of the scene, and to his mind the view was one of the most charming ever met.  He watched the game as a spectator, and remembers wondering whether the town would ever grow enough to encroach upon what was then called by the students the "ball-ground."  The spot was covered only with grass as late as 1863.
-The History of McLean County, Illinois

This game of "ball" was played in Normal, Illinois, and again gives us an example of the ball-playing culture that existed in central Illinois in the antebellum era.  The site the students went to visit would be the future site of Illinois State, which was founded in 1857.  The book this reference comes from was published in 1879.

One thing we need to look at is the possibility that the game played was the New York game.  There is no specific evidence to suggest that it was but it's possible.  The New York game was being played in Chicago in 1858 and would be played in St. Louis in 1859 so the game had already arrived in the Midwest and was spreading through the area.  Now, most would argue that the New York game, at this time, was largely restricted to the urban areas of the Midwest and that it wouldn't reach the more rural areas of Illinois and Missouri until after the Civil War, in the 1865-67 period.  But I'm not entirely convinced of this.  There is some evidence that the game was being played in Mason County, Illinois, as early as 1861 and it's likely that places like Freeport, Illinois, had the game prior to 1865.  While I have absolutely zero evidence to support this, I'm open to the idea that some central Illinois communities may have been playing the New York game as early as 1858.     


1 comment:

Richard Hershberger said...

It is not entirely clear to me that the NY game was being played in Chicago in 1858. There clearly was some version, and it was called "base ball", but this is insufficient to conclude it was the NY game. Chicago is within the geographical area where we would expect "base ball" as the native term for the game in general. A Rockport paper reports in 1858 a game clearly not the NY game, and it also proposed the Mass. game for clubs. It is possible that the NY game was in Chicago by 1858, though this would be at the early end of plausible. But I wonder if there is any affirmative evidence, or if someone saw a reference to "base ball" and made an assumption.