Autumn brings a nostalgic feeling. With summer vacation officially over and kids going back to school, it’s difficult not to think about what we were doing around this time in years past. The changing of the leaves may remind us of long anticipated Saturday mornings, when school work could be forgotten in favor of spending a day at the community baseball park, trying to soak in the last inklings of summer.
Baseball, “America’s favorite pastime,” has been played in parks, streets, and school yards since the 1800s. The sport’s easy rules and no-contact game play made it fun for people of all ages and genders to enjoy. Baseball rose in popularity in the late 19th- and early 20th-century, and professional teams were formed in cities across the country, from New York to Los Angeles. As rules were formalized and team rivalries began, fans would travel miles to see their favorite team.
Professional leagues were not just reserved for the major urban cities. Smaller towns and regions could also boast professional leagues, including the Eastern Shore. From the 1920s to the 1940s, a professional class-D Eastern Shore League graced baseball parks found up and down Route 13. Future Hall of Famers Jimmie Foxx, Red Ruffing, Mickey Cochrane and Frank “Home Run” Baker honed skills on these Eastern Shore baseball diamonds that would later help them succeed in the major leagues.
The Parksley Spuds were a popular team for many Eastern Shore fans. In the very first year of the league’s operation in 1922, this Virginia team took home the pennant, a goal they would repeat twice more before the league temporarily disbanded in 1928. The Eastern Shore league would return twice more in the 20th century; however, the Eastern Shore of Virginia never had another team in the league. The love for baseball never died though, instead shown through the popularity of company teams, church leagues and community clubs.
Baseball has a nostalgic feel to it that other sports have slightly more difficulty capturing. Its simple rules made it easy for us to play as children, while its historic and longstanding tradition as the national pastime has encouraged us to go to games on Saturdays, when work could be put on hold to play ball.
The Eastern Shore of Virginia Historical Society is encouraging baseball fans of all ages to tap into that nostalgic feeling and to join us as we celebrate the Eastern Shore League with a special, one time viewing of unique artifacts and photographs of these early baseball teams. Hear from Eastern Shore League enthusiasts Mike Lambert, author of Eastern Shore League: Images of Baseball and Donny Davison, collector, as well as baseball historian, Marty Payne. Fans of Eastern Shore Baseball will also have the chance to bring their own artifacts to discuss with their fellow collectors.