When base ball expanded out of New York, the first major cities it went to were Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington. The first clubs outside of the New York Metro area to join the National Association of Base Ball Players were from Philadelphia. One of the earliest mentions of a game resembling baseball came in a 1778 diary entry made by a young Revolutionary War soldier camped at Valley Forge just outside Philadelphia, who observed troops playing a game of “base.” Philadelphia was also home to the first organized baseball club, the Olympic Ball Club, formed in 1833 by a group of young gentlemen from the cream of Philadelphia high society. The games these men played would be barely recognizable to fan of the modern sport, with irregular numbers of players, innings, bases, and batters. By the 1860s, however, the Olympic and other Philadelphia ball clubs, made up of men from all walks of life, were playing by the rules of the New York–based National Association of Base Ball Players (NABBP)—a game that would soon evolve into America’s favorite pastime.
One standout team among Philadelphia’s early baseball clubs tried unsuccessfully to gain admittance to the NABBP. The reason behind their refusal was clear: the Philadelphia Pythians was made up of African American players and led by short-stop Octavious Catto, a pioneering voting rights campaigner who was assassinated in 1871 for his political activities.
As segregation became institutionalized into baseball, another Philly team, the Athletic Club of Philadelphia, was becoming a powerhouse of the early sport, compiling the best record in the nation in several seasons and winning the inaugural championship of the National Association, the precursor to the major leagues. In 1876, the team was a founding member of the National League of Professional Ball Clubs, the world’s oldest extant professional sports league. They were kicked out of the new league after its maiden season, but by this time Philadelphia was well-known as a center of baseball and a key birthing ground for the sport’s early professionals.
Base ball grew in other parts of the region as well. In Maryland, George Gratton who owned the Baltimore Base Ball Emporium out of Baltimore wanted to be able to take his fledging sporting goods store to the public. He sent four sales reps to each corner of the state and each started a pick up base ball game in a different small town each weekend. Pretty soon every town and village in the state had their own club and purchased their equipment from the BBBE.
In Delaware, Elkton, and West Chester, the sport grew right after the war as returning veterans brought back the game they played in camp with city folks from Philadelphia and New York. By 1867, base ball clubs were all over the region and the craze was well on its way to being America’s Pastime.
The Federal Conference is made up of clubs from southern New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Fans going to see clubs from this conference will see just what base ball was like in 1864 in that particular town. Clubs pay very close attention to detail and authenticity. Fans will also see very good base ball because the clubs not only like to show the public just how it was played in 1864, but they like to win as well. Click a link below to any of the clubs in the conference for more information on each club.