Jefferson College to host historic game of ‘base ball’

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 1, 2000

&uot;Play ball!&uot; When umpire Clark Burkett makes the call at 9 a.m. Saturday at Historic Jefferson College, he will signal the beginning of a day of vintage baseball for Natchez fans.

&uot;I just hope 18 people show up so we can have two teams,&uot; said Burkett, historian at the site where organized baseball in Natchez may have had its beginnings.

In its fourth year, the recreation of early &uot;base ball,&uot; which many sports fans call America’s favorite pastime, will feature all Natchez players.

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What may not be historically accurate in Saturday games is that some of the players may be women, Burkett said.

&uot;If we don’t have enough men, the women will take part as men,&uot; he said.

That does stretch history, as the game began as a &uot;gentleman’s game,&uot; in which 19th-century players rolled up their shirt sleeves only after asking permission of women spectators.

&uot;Men back then were fined two bits for spitting,&uot; Burkett said. &uot;And if they cursed, they were out of the game.&uot;

Americans didn’t take long to add typical Yankee enthusiasm to the stilted game, though.

By the late 19th century, Mark Twain said of the game, &uot;Baseball is the very symbol, the outward and visible expression of the drive and push and rush and struggle of the raging, tearing, booming nineteenth century.&uot;

As the game grew in popularity into the 20th century, its very terms creeped into Americans’ everyday language with such expressions as &uot;ballpark figure,&uot; &uot;pinch hit for me,&uot; &uot;two strikes against her,&uot; &uot;out in left field,&uot; &uot;you won’t get to first base with him.&uot;

Saturday’s games will be top hat games. Players will pull chips from a hat. Reds play for one team; blacks, for the other.

As umpire, Burkett will follow rules established in 1859 in Cooper’s Institute, N.Y.

&uot;Those rules were the first to standardize the game and help it grow in popularity,&uot; he said.

Baseball in the United States came by way of England from the game known as &uot;rounders.&uot;

Burkett said, however, the concept of baseball goes back at least 3,000 years, when northern Africans played a game with sticks, balls and four bases.

The annual Natchez games, now known as the Katherine Ann Wall Allgood Vintage Base Ball Game, continue under the leadership of Natchez sports enthusiast and businessman Jimmy Allgood.

&uot;We named the game in honor of Jimmy’s late mother because of her great interest in the games,&uot; Burkett said.

Those interested in participating in the games should arrive at Jefferson College at 8:30 a.m. dressed in long dark pants and long-sleeved white shirts.

The event is free and open to the public. Food and soft drinks will be for sale during the day, Burkett said.