September 1 , 2014
Baseball is an old American game. As early as 1791, the city of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, passed an ordinance banning the playing of the game within eighty yards of the town meeting house.
During the Civil war, troops played baseball to pass the time while waiting for the next battle. After the war, the game was played in many communities by the returning soldiers. Gradually, teams were organized in various towns and cities. Efforts were made to formalize the rules of the game and an organization was established to govern the sport. However, baseball as played by Carl Sandburg and his friends was of a more informal nature.
Carl Sandburg was called “Charlie” or “Cully” by his baseball-playing buddies. They played in the street all day long, except for walking home to eat lunch and supper. Then, they played some more baseball under the electric street light at Day and Berrian Streets until nine o'clock in the evening. The street was unpaved and dusty, so the boys washed their feet under the pump in the back yard. They had been trained with strong words by their mothers to enter the house with clean feet.
The equipment was basic: an ax handle for a bat, a round rubber object bound in string for a ball. The bases were bricks and boards of varying shapes and sizes. One boy came to the game with a real Spaulding baseball that cost a dollar and a half. They played with it until the leather cover was completely worn off.
Of course, baseball is not a game to be played in silence. The boys cheered if their team was winning. They shouted that they would win the next game, if they lost.
Several widows living on the street would sit on their porches and watch the boys from time to time. One widow of a Civil War veteran had a lovely flower garden. Unfortunately, one of the bases was within ten feet of her flowers. Once in awhile a ball would land in the flower bed and the boy retrieving it wasn't always careful about where he stepped. The lady of the house would threaten to call the police over the trespassing.
The more serious threat came from men who worked for the railroad and needed their sleep. One man fired shots into the air as a warning. Some of the boys ran for home as fast as they could. Carl and his brother Mart and several other boys sat on the wood sidewalk to show they weren't afraid. They tried to be quiet while playing, but it was a “strain on them,”as Sandburg later wrote.
After playing the game so much, Carl began to believe that he might play baseball professionally. He and his friends had watched the games at Knox College and amateur teams that played in the vicinity.
One day when he was sixteen, Carl was practicing pop-ups with another boy on a vacant lot several blocks north of Lombard College. He stepped into a hole in the ground while running to catch the ball. There was a broken bottle in the hole. Carl could see right away there was a cut in his shoe and blood was running out of it. A doctor in the neighborhood cleaned the wound and stitched it together.
After that experience, Charlie decided baseball wasn't for him.