It seems that the baseball season will begin this year at last.
Greene County residents have been enjoying the sport for well over 100 years.
There were several semi-pro teams providing entertainment for the locals for a number of years. A few of those players went on to play pro ball.
In those early days the players were not required to live in a particular community to play with the local team. Even non-collegiate players were enlisted from time to time to play with the college teams. Some of the better pitchers might even pitch for more than one local team as time would permit.
Of those early teams, some were well organized with managers and a roster of players while some were not so organized, but played for fun.
Since many of the players had full-time jobs which kept them at work six days a week, the majority of the games were played on Sunday afternoon. Sometimes the players provided their own uniforms and then if a team was very popular uniforms were purchased by sponsorship or public subscription. It was said that merchant J.D. Steele donated $5 to a team to purchase uniforms, but when he discovered they would play on Sundays, asked for his $5 to be returned.
Rules were rather loose at times so it would not be uncommon for a team to score 30 or 40 runs during a game. There is a story that when the rain began to fall, the players asked the umpire to call off the game because of rain. He refused so the players carried umbrellas onto the field, but the game continued anyway.
One of the early teams was called the Xenia Buckeyes. The Buckeyes challenged the Cincinnati Red Stockings (as they were called). The game took place at what were then the “new” fairgrounds which was at that time located on Fair Street. The date was July 6, 1869. This was the first public event to be scheduled on the new grounds and of course, brought a great crowd and a great deal of excitement to the county. At that time the Buckeyes were holding their own very well against teams from Dayton, Cincinnati and Columbus.
The Cincinnati team made another appearance in 1892. The Reds pitcher Cy Pye was inclined to clown around a bit on the mound. He made an announcement to the spectators “Ladies and gentlemen, I will now retire the side with three straight strike-outs.”
The local team retaliated with one base hit after another. Cy looked to the manager to be relieved, but the manager refused and left him on the mound, adding insult to injury. At last, the manager did relieve him and the Reds took the game 15-7. The local team certainly showed the big leaguers they could play.
This was not the only team in the county to run the bases. The Mohawks were popular during the 1870s. The most often seen pitcher was Bill Charters who became a local policeman, but those who were in the know said he could easily have gone on to pro ball, should he have chosen to do so. The catcher was “Doc” Apple whose full-time job was as a railroad fireman. At that time, mitts and face masks were seldom used by the players.
The Mohawks played in the north end of Xenia on property owned by Dick Galloway. The area was bounded by Galloway and West streets with Union Street on the north and Allison’s orchard on the south. Unfortunately, the apple orchard was so close to the playing field that the owner was never able to pick the full crop because players and sports enthusiasts would get there first. Galloway was a good sport himself in that during the winter he was pleased to have the kids come sledding on what became known as “Dick’s Hill.” This was perhaps the most popular sledding spot in the area.
After the Mohawks ceased to play, a team called the Look-Outs played on that field for some time. The team they played most often and with some rancor was the team from the OSSO Home.
Baseball continued to be a leading sport in the county for many years. The Xenia Nationals began to play in the early part of the 20th century when there was more organization and rules were more stringent.
James Galloway owned property on Cincinnati Avenue where families were encouraged to spend a leisurely Sunday afternoon with a picnic-basket lunch. At first Galloway was not keen on the team playing ball on a Sunday, but they moved on and in time he allowed them to play. The trees nearby made an interesting game for visitors but the local Nationals were used to grabbing a ball after it hit a branch.
A local merchant provided uniforms for the team so more and more residents came to watch the team. The crowds began to gather for each game and at last a grandstand was provided for the fans. Unfortunately during a terrible rain storm, the grandstand wound up in the middle of Cincinnati Avenue where it blocked traffic. It was dismantled and a new, larger one was built.
Usually the Nationals played other nearby semi-pro teams, but they were able to engage a team from Nebraska called Green’s Nebraska Indians.
There is probably no greater thrill for spectators or the fellow at bat to hear the crack when the ball is firmly hit and the player has a homerun.
Teams such as the Nationals, Clippers, Reserves, and Xenia Merchants are hardly remembered, but kids still play Little League or even sandlot baseball. Greene County residents look forward each year to a new season of enjoying the “National Pastime.”
Joan Baxter is a Greene County historian and resident.