Baseball & Softball Introduction
Baseball accompanied the settlement of the west, even gaining an entry in the Western Canadian Dictionary and Phrase-Book of 1912, sandwiched between Bartender and Basket social.
Baseball, great game in Canada and the United States; played with a ball and bat on an open field marked with a diamond ninety feet square, known as the infield. The indefinite extension of lines on adjacent sides of this square marks off the outfield from the foul ground. There are nine men in a team.
The origin of the game of baseball remains a source of debate, but the sport as we know it today appears to have sprung from a standardization of baseball rules in 1845. The Knickerbocker Rules established by Alexander Cartwright, of the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club of New York, set the stage for the growth of the sport throughout North America. Among the changes was a rule forbidding teams to throw the ball at opposing base runners. At one time, hitting a runner with the ball was considered an out.
Softball (with a larger, softer ball and smaller field) dates back to the late 1880s and, for a time, was an indoor sport often used by baseball players during the winter to keep in shape for the summer season.
Baseball and softball took hold in the area to become Alberta long before the province was officially established. The completion of the railway was crucial to the settlement of the west and the development of baseball.
The ball and bat sports showed enormous growth in the 20s, a dip in the 30s and recovery in the late 40s. As the economy boomed after the war, baseball and softball enjoyed another “golden age” before beginning to slide in the late 50s and 60s.
Calgary and Edmonton reached the highest level of minor league baseball in the 1980s with franchises in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League.
There were no women’s teams, let alone leagues, in “organized” professional baseball (the official structure of the major leagues and their minor league affiliates under the Commissioner of Baseball). A few women’s leagues existed at the amateur level and in universities and there were women’s barnstorming teams which traveled to Alberta beginning in the early 1900s. Of course, there were many local teams of women who participated at sports days, holiday events and special occasions in the province.
In 1943, with major league teams losing more and more players to the war effort and with a sharp decline in attendance, one of the existing major league owners tried to revive interest in the game by establishing a separate league for women. The hybrid baseball-softball circuit became the subject of a 1992 feature film, “A League of Their Own.”
Bat and ball sports have generally declined in the new millennium because soccer, with little need of expensive equipment and greater flexibility as to the number of players, has become the game of choice of an increasing number of youngsters.
However, with the aging of baby boomers, one major growth area has been in slo-pitch softball.