Sandburg's Hometown

September 1, 2014

Sandlot baseball


by Barbara Schock

Baseball is an old American game. As early as 1791, the city of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, passed an ordinance banning the playing of  the game within eighty yards of the town meeting house.


During the Civil war, troops played baseball to pass the time while waiting for the next battle. After the war, the game was played in many communities by the returning soldiers. Gradually, teams were organized in various towns and cities. Efforts were made to formalize the rules of the game and an organization was established to govern the sport. However, baseball as played by Carl Sandburg and his friends was of a more informal nature.


Carl Sandburg was called “Charlie” or “Cully” by his baseball-playing buddies. They played in the street all day long, except for walking home to eat lunch and supper. Then, they played some more baseball under the electric street light at Day and Berrian Streets until nine o'clock in the evening. The street was unpaved and dusty, so the boys washed their feet under the pump in the back yard. They had been trained with strong words by their mothers to enter the house with clean feet.


The equipment was basic: an ax handle for a bat, a round rubber object bound in string for a ball. The bases were bricks and boards of varying shapes and sizes. One boy came to the game with a  real Spaulding baseball that cost a dollar and a half. They played with it until the leather cover was completely worn off.


Of course, baseball is not a game to be played in silence. The boys cheered if their team was winning. They shouted that they would win the next game, if they lost.


Several widows living on the street would sit on their porches and watch the boys from time to time. One widow of a Civil War veteran had a lovely flower garden. Unfortunately, one of the bases was within ten feet of her flowers. Once in awhile a ball would land in the flower bed and the boy retrieving it wasn't always careful about where he stepped. The lady of the house would threaten to call the police over the trespassing.


The more serious threat came from men who worked for the railroad and needed their sleep. One man fired shots into the air as a warning. Some of the boys ran for home as fast as they could. Carl and his brother Mart and several other boys sat on the wood sidewalk to show they weren't afraid. They tried to be quiet while playing, but it was a “strain on them,”as Sandburg later wrote.


After playing the game so much, Carl began to believe that he might play baseball professionally. He and his friends had watched the games at Knox College and amateur teams that played in the vicinity.


One day when he was sixteen, Carl was practicing pop-ups with another boy on a vacant lot several blocks north of Lombard College. He stepped into a hole in the ground while running to catch the ball. There was a broken  bottle in the hole. Carl could see right away there was a cut in his shoe and blood was running out of it. A doctor in the neighborhood cleaned the wound and stitched it together.


After that experience, Charlie decided baseball wasn't for him.


Sandburg's Hometown
Date Title
September 1, 2014 Baseball
August 25, 2014 Howard K. Knowles, Capitalist
August 18, 2014  Alcoholic Beverages
August 11, 2014 Soda Water
August 4, 2014 Sweet Corn
July 28, 2014 Marching Through Georgia
July 21, 2014 The Knox County Fair
July 14, 2014 The Panic of 1893
July 7, 2014 The Rev. T. N. Hasselquist
June 30, 2014 The Knox County Courthouse
June 23, 2014 The Family Photograph Album
June 16, 2014 Parades
June 9, 2014 Lingonberries
June 2, 2014 Where We Live
May 26, 2014 Old Main
May 19, 2014 Rhythms of the Railroad
May 12, 2014 Spring Tonic
May 5, 2014 The Milkmen
April 28, 2014 Gray's "Elegy..."
April 21, 2014 Off to War
April 14, 2014 Swedish Easter
April 7, 2014 A Father's Face
March 31, 2014 Secret Societies
March 24, 2014 George A. Murdock, Merchant
March 10, 2014 Trade Cards
March 3, 2014 The Demorest Medal
February 24, 2014 Rip Van Winkle
February 17, 2014 Cabbage Soup
February 10, 2014 Lincoln's Birthday
February 3, 2014  The Colonel
January 27, 2014 The Lincoln Penny - A Little History
January 20, 2014 Walking to Work
January 13, 2014  A Small Abode
January 6, 2014 Birth of a Poet
December 30, 2013 Christmas 1880
December 23, 2013 Swedish Christmas
December 16, 2013 The Reporter Sees Santa
December 9, 2013 The Coming of Christmas
December 2, 2013 The Fire Boys Talk
November 25, 2013 Galesburg Will Feast on Turkeys and Cranberries - Thanksgiving 1893
November 18, 2013  Mary Sandburg Johnson
November 11, 2013 Carl Sandburg's Bicycle
November 4, 2013  Lace Curtains 
October 28, 2013 The Front Room
October 21, 2013 A Warm Breakfast
October 14, 2013 Marion D. Shutter
October 7, 2013 Cigars and Consumption
September 30, 2013 Forrest F. Cooke & August Sandburg
September 16, 2013 Forrest F. Cooke, Mayor
September 9, 2013 Dusty Streets
September 2, 2013 Typhoid Fever
August 26, 2013 Coffee and Water
August 19, 2013 A Horse! A Horse!
August 12, 2013 Gaddial Scott
August 5, 2013 The Racetrack
July 29, 2013 John Peter Algeld - Part II
July 22, 2013 John Peter Altgeld - Part I
July 15, 2013 Tramps, Tramps, Tramps
July 8, 2013 Lady Liberty
July 1, 2013 Galesburg's Fourth
June 24, 2013 John H. Finley
June 17, 2013 The World's Columbian Exhibition
June 10, 2013 Fruit Short-Cake
June 3, 2013 Horatio Alger, Author
May 27, 2013 Memorial Day, 1887
May 20, 2013 Professor Jon W. Grubb
May 13, 2013 Beginnings of Lombard University
May 6, 2013 Young Sandburg’s View of Lombard College
April 29, 2013 Thinking
April 22, 2013 Robert Colville, Master Mechanic
April 15, 2013 The Galesburg Opera House
April 8, 2013 Grocery Stores and Sample Rooms
April 1, 2013  A Hearty  Breakfast 
March 25, 2013  The Lost Wallpaper Legend 
March 18, 2013 Martin G. Sandburg
March 4, 2013 The Edison Talking Machine
February 25, 2013 Joe Elser, Civil War Veteran
February 18, 2013 Remember the Maine...
February 11, 2013 Lincoln's Birthday
February 4, 2013 Curiosity