Baseball came to Boulder in the 1860s
06 Jun 2016
Play Ball! with Boulder County’s Hayseeds, Hand-Me-Downs and O Be JoyfulsBy Charmaine Ortega Getz Baseball, then spelled “base ball,” was still a young sport when it arrived in a sparsely settled district of the Territory of Colorado known as Boulder County. The first county town to field a team may well have been Valmont. The Rocky Mountain News reported on March 21, 1866, that the Base Ball Club of Valmont was considering a match with Denver’s Colorado Club, which had started in 1862. “If the Valmonters wish to be most beautifully beaten,” the paper wrote in the flowery style of the times, “and to receive at the same time that magnanimous and honorable treatment which gentlemen always afford to defeated antagonists, let them make the proposed challenge.” Colorado teams played by the “New York rules” set down in 1857 by Daniel Lucius “Doc” Adams, then president of the New York Knickerbockers Base Ball Club. And by those rules, according to the Boulder County Pioneer newspaper, the Boulder Base Ball Club was organized in February 1869, with two teams—the First Nines and the Second Nines—and officers. The club played every Saturday afternoon on the “public square.” This was on the north side of Pearl Street, between 13th and 14th streets, near the courthouse.
Proper grandstands indicated that a club had truly arrived, and players might even hope to make a modest living out of their sport.An unnamed reporter from the Pioneer was less than impressed after watching one of the first meetups: “While some members might be pretty good hands at poker, old sledge and other standard [card] games, they are not adepts in the art of ball-playing.” By 1887, Boulder’s growing downtown had pushed the ballgrounds to 17th and Pearl streets. The “Boulder Athletic Grounds” were moved again by 1894 to the fairgrounds—sometimes called the “driving grounds”—at the city’s far eastern boundary.
Suiting Up“Base ball” clubs faded, reappeared and reorganized throughout the county frequently, although they stretched from the mountain settlements to valley towns. There were generally two levels, Seniors for men aged 25 and up, and Juniors from late teens to 24. Once a club had achieved some proficiency it would challenge another club. Success meant fans would willingly pay about 25 cents to sit on rough bleachers and enjoy the show. Proper grandstands indicated that a club had truly arrived, and players might even hope to make a modest living out of their sport. In early days, uniforms and equipment had to be ordered from “back East.” Several local stores carried baseball goods by the time Boulder was incorporated in 1871, but uniforms still had to be imported for some time. The Colorado Banner reported on Aug. 30, 1877, that the newly reformed Boulder Base Ball Club was eagerly awaiting “suits” described as “… white and blue caps, white shirts, blue flannel knee breeches, white and blue stockings, and white shoes.” Denver became the regional supplier of uniforms by the 1890s. Funds to better outfit a club were solicited from the public, often with dances and other entertainment. The University of Colorado Base Ball Team held an “athletic concert” on March 31, 1893, at the University Club, with entertainment provided by the college’s banjo and glee clubs. Groups’ monikers could be simple—the Longmont Utes, the Boulder Reds, Boulder’s Eastern Star—or downright quirky, like Boulder’s O Be Joyfuls, the Hand-Me-Downs, the Alfalfa Savages (aka Longmont Base Ball Club), the Hygiene Hayseeds, and Louisville’s Fat Men’s Base Ball Club (required weight 175 to 400 pounds).
Female ModestyGirls played baseball, but no group in Boulder County seems to have risen to the level of a recognized club. Concern for female modesty was paramount, even after “Bloomer Base Ball” debuted nationally in the late 1890s, named for the long pantaloons worn under shorter skirts invented by feminist Amelia Bloomer. At least one exhibition match by a barnstorming women’s team against an unidentified male team took place on May 24, 1892. “The female base ball game this afternoon will draw a big crowd. In Denver a large number of ladies attended and there was nothing in the game even approaching the vulgar, and the ladies of Boulder may attend today’s game without fear of finding anything improper,” the Boulder Daily Camera assured readers. “The management is very careful to keep everything strictly high-toned. It is simply a match game of base ball by ladies.” Segregation against African-American players was imposed on professional baseball nationally in 1890. There are few mentions in Boulder County papers before the 1920s of any African-American clubs playing in Colorado, none local. The Longmont Ledger announced two games scheduled for June 14, 1904, to be played between the Longmont Base Ball Club and the Sioux Indian Base Ball Club of Spokane, Wash. This was a historic event on several counts, including the fact that the touring Sioux club was made up of “genuine full blood Indians.” It was also Boulder County’s first known ballgame played at night under electric lights. The visiting club brought its own generator and arc lights. By the time of the 1919 World Series, baseball had all the rules of today’s game. However, it was revelations of players’ game-fixing during the series that cracked the aura of the “good, clean sport.” Even in Boulder County, the innocence of the national pastime was gone.
Charmaine Ortega Getz is a Boulder resident and freelance journalist and author of Weird Colorado: Your Travel Guide to Colorado’s Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets.