Mid-19th-century base ball (originally spelled with two words) was considerably different. Most ballists played with bare hands until the mid-1880s.
— Vintage Base Ball Association
The 19-century logging communities of Douglas and Ludington will send their vintage base ball clubs to Mackinac Island June 9 to play three games of 1860s’ rules base ball with the Mackinaw City Boys. A major part of Michigan’s early history, the lumber industry gave birth to many towns throughout the state: As loggers moved to a new area, the Michigan Central Railroad and the Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad followed, spreading from Michigan’s southernmost boarders up to Mackinaw City. These two railroads invested in Grand Hotel’s 1887 construction.
Minor league baseball has been a big part of Michigan history since the 1870s, and Grand Hotel celebrates that history on July 7 when the Bay City Independents and Saginaw Old Golds meet up on Mackinac. Both teams belonged to the Northwestern League in the early 1880s while their cities also laid rails and moved timber.
Many Michiganders who fought in the Civil War went on to fight battles in the east and south. While in service, they learned the east coast game of baseball and brought it back home. Many of these men formed the Kent Base Ball Club of Grand Rapidsand the Regular Base Ball Club of Mount Clemens right after the war. Those clubs will join the Independents and Old Golds on July 7 for a few games and a tribute to the Michigan men who fought and died on the battlefields of Antietam and Fredericksburg 150 years ago this year.
Michigan is full of small towns, but small towns are what bring the state together. The Monitor BBC of Chelsea, the Sydney Stars of Sydney, the Fallasburg Cubs of Lowell and the Midland Mighty River Hogs travel to Mackinac Island Aug. 18 to represent generations of Michiganders state-wide who built strong logging, manufacturing and furniture industries in their own small-town communities.
The 21st-century Walker Wheels playing 19th-century “base ball” make home base the Walker Tavern Historic Site in Brooklyn, Mich. Along with the Fort Mackinac Never Sweats Base Ball Club, the Wheels play a full season against opposing teams through Michigan DNR’s historical programming. Go to Michigan.gov for schedules.
To find out more about the Vintage Base Ball Association’s Michigan team members, go to vbba.org.
— Kellie Lawrence, Michigan BLUE Magazine.
*Photography Courtesy The Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village; The Walker Tavern Wheels; and istockphoto.com/Andrew Rich