Baseball History in southwestern Ontario is rich, and surprisingly longer than one might expect, actually setting historical precedents!
A favourite pastime at this time of year in this area, and without a doubt in most of Canada, is looking for indications that spring is on its way.
The calendar says that it is getting closer. The days are getting longer. The maple sap is running. The hockey season is almost over and everyone is talking about the play-offs. And, of course, the media is reporting various sightings of the arrival of the first robins. These are all important signs that winter is almost over, and warm weather is on the way.
But, for me, the most important harbinger of spring, is the news that the baseball players are in Florida and Arizona participating in spring training.
I have often written about the importance of the sport of hockey to the social and cultural life of this region. However, baseball and softball also have a rich heritage in this area. In fact, baseball has a long history in all of western Ontario. Early photos and records depict some form of baseball being played well before the 1900s.
One of the earliest recorded baseball games in North America occurred in western Ontario. On July 4, 1838 in Beechville, Oxford County a contest was held between the local nine and a team from Zorra Township in North Oxford. The game was part of a civic celebration held in honour of the birthday of George IV and the victory over the rebels in the 1837 Rebellion.
In the 1870s, baseball was a popular pastime in this area. Unfortunately, there are few records of any attempts to form organized teams and leagues. However, down the Garafraxa road in Guelph, baseball was an immensely popular sport during this era. In the 1870s a team from the Royal City defeated a team from Rochester, New York to claim the world championship. Near the end of the decade the International Baseball League, which still exists as the number one minor league for Major League Baseball was formed. This league included two teams from western Ontario as charter members. The Guelph and London teams were dominant forces in this professional league and in its inaugural season, London captured the championship.
By the 1890s organized baseball was popular in the Grey-Bruce region. Two Owen Sound teams, the Clippers and the Maple Leafs, barnstormed throughout western Ontario.
With the support of local businessmen such as G.P. Creighton, D.C. Taylor and J.M. McLaughlin, the Clippers won the Northern Ontario Baseball championship in 1895.
Articles about baseball history in southwestern Ontario in the 1920s and '30s detail that baseball was extremely popular in the area. The Brooke Millionaires played in a highly competitive league against teams representing teams from many towns and villages in Grey and Bruce. The calibre of the play was so high that many local players were scouted and offered contracts by major league teams. Like hockey, baseball was a source of community pride in this area. Winning a game from a neighbouring community's team brought bragging rights about who was the best until the next time the teams met on the diamond.
Consequently, baseball games attracted large crowds and fans travelled great distances to support their local heroes.
Today, this region is still a hotbed of enthusiasm for baseball and softball. The Selects and other teams have brought national and international acclaim to the region. However, I can think of no better way to spend a warm spring or summer evening than watching or playing a game of baseball or softball.
Yes, baseball has always been a harbinger of the coming of spring and then, the warm summer weather. However, in our family, there's another sure signal that spring is upon us. Dad's been a little antsy lately and he's been cleaning his golf clubs and, mom, well she's got that look of resignation on her face as she prepares herself for another six months of being a golf widow!
A version of this story first appeared in my Local History column in the Owen Sound Sun Times on March 12, 1999.
Baseball History in Southwestern Ontario is rich, and surprisingly longer than one might expect, actually setting historical precedents!
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Baseball History in southwestern Ontario has very early beginnings and the dominance of Canadian teams in early competition may be surprising to many readers.
History Pages introduces the readers to interesting people, places, and events that I have researched and written about in my writing career that spans more than three decades.