Baseball and Iowa Grow Up Together

The Vinton boys played well, but fate was against them from the start, and the first three or four innings demonstrated the result. Taken as a whole this was a very pleasant affair. All parties conducting themselves in a most gentlemanly manner; a true spirit of fairness and courtesy characterizing the entire proceeding.

— Cedar Valley Times, 27 June 1867.

The state of Iowa and the game of baseball grew up together. While pioneers streamed into Iowa during the 1840s, the first baseball rulebook was published in the east.

Baseball became the national game after the Civil War. Soldiers had learned the game in training or prisoner-of-war camps. When they returned to their homes in all parts of the nation, they took the game with them.

Baseball caught on rapidly. A town did not need to be very large to have a baseball team. Only one year after the war, teams had been formed at Mount Pleasant, Des Moines and Council Bluffs. The very next year Des Moines alone had nine teams, including a young people's team called the Shirttail Rangers.

A Community Event

When there was a home game, the shops and businesses in a community closed. The townspeople and fans from nearby farms went to the ball field. They often sat on the ground or in their horsedrawn carriages and wagons and watched the game. Excited onlookers shouted themselves hoarse rooting for the home team.

Local ball players had pride in their team too. At Bellevue the players built their own ball park. When they began, the ground was rough and uneven, studded with tree stumps that had to be dug out. After much work the team members had the field ready for play. They did not stop there, but went on to build a grandstand for the spectators. The Bellevue Butterfingers took pride in their first-class ballpark. The citizens of Bellevue passed many pleasant afternoons there. One year the women of Bellevue formed a team called the Bellevue Bloomers to play a special game against the men. The men's team won, 8 to 5.

A Few Make it to the Big Time

If a player was really good, he might leave the small town team and take a job with a professional ball club. Major professional league teams were located in other states. In 1871 an 18-year-old from Marshalltown joined a professional team in Illinois. Adrian "Cap" Anson earned a place in baseball history as a top batter. But when he later became the manager of the Chicago White Stockings, he worked to keep major league baseball a racially segregated sport. There were no black players in the major leagues until 1945. Other Iowans went on to play professional baseball through the years. Some of them became heroes of the game.

Baseball and its offshoot, softball, remained popular sports in Iowa. When attitudes changed and it became acceptable, women and girls in Iowa played ball too. Many small communities and larger cities supported both genders when it came to sports.

Communities are still very supportive of their local baseball and softball teams. Some larger Iowa cities also support professional minor league teams. The Burlington Bees, Clinton Lumberkings, Cedar Rapids Kernels, Swing of the Quad Cities and the Iowa Cubs are all teams based in Iowa. Baseball is still a popular summer sport—to watch as well as play.

Adapted from original article in The Goldfinch 4, No. 1 (September 1982). Iowa City: State Historical Society of Iowa.
© State Historical Society of Iowa

 

 


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