Hudson’s Bay Company employees played cricket games at Fort Vancouver, but baseball wasn’t played in the area until after the Civil War. As base ball (two words) started congealing into one word (baseball) shortly before the Civil War, it popped up still as two words across the Pacific Northwest a year after the war’s end, 1866. Likely, soldiers from the war and others moving West brought the game with them.
At first, baseball clubs appeared in and around Portland. A decade after dubbing baseball the “national pastime,” the first report about the game in the Portland-Vancouver area found its way into the pages of The Oregonian in August 1866. The paper’s readers complained about something peculiar happening on Portland rooftops. The newspaper retorted, “All we know is the end is not near yet … the National Game is decidedly ‘on the fly’ … and we cannot project a ‘short stop.’ ”
Portland started two clubs in 1866 and a year later claimed 17. Clark County and Vancouver were slower, sprouting two clubs, the Occidentals and the Shermans. At the time, the Oregon press saw the Washington Territory as sparsely populated and dubbed Vancouver a “village.” Vancouver’s population then was 1,158 males and 955 females.
Early local baseball clubs were formal institutions. Following the Victorian-era sense of order and organization, clubs established administrative hierarchies by designating presidents, treasurers and team captains. Clubs formed two teams of nine men, called first and second nine.
Each club elected umpires and assigned scorekeepers, who reported scores to newspapers. Members paid 25 cents a month for dues to play and paid for their uniforms. Teams also held fundraisers. In July 1879, the Vancouver Independent noted the Park and Spartan clubs held dances to raise money. The playing season started in April and finished in November, with the possibility of early and late season games being rained out.
According to the rules of the day, one team would challenge another by naming a location, day and time to set up a game. Newspapers sometimes published these challenges. Such challenges might be accepted or declined. The clubs also played unofficial “friendly games” that didn’t count against their record. Several evenings a week, members attended “field practice.”
Rain halted games, and downpours turned roads into mud, making them impassible, delaying or canceling contests. Soggy roads shut down a game between the Clackamas Club and the Occidentals in Vancouver, the Oregon City Express wrote in July 1867. In April 1879, “rain squelched the usual game of base ball last Sunday,” the Vancouver Independent reported.
Liquor also stopped games. The Vancouver Independent in September 1877 reported a game between two Vancouver teams, the Athletics and Spartans, was “indefinitely postponed in consequence the inability of the latter to contest, owing to a superabundance of grape juice.”
Early baseball began in Clark County as a novel way for men to engage in socialization, competition and exercise that bolstered their gentlemanly nature. By the end of 1867, besides the fort’s Sherman and Vancouver Occidental clubs, the city added three more, the Oriental Club of Fourth Plain, the Washington Club and Continental Club, which included both men and boys.
Martin Middlewood is editor of the Clark County Historical Society Annual. Reach him at ClarkCoHist@gmail.com.