The “New Game” Comes to Kalamazoo
Legend has it that the sport of baseball as we know it was first introduced in Kalamazoo during the late 1850s by one John McCord, who, after seeing the game played while attending school in New York, was finally able to persuade his friends back home in Kalamazoo to try it. “John used to play the old game of patch ball with us when he was here,” recalled Kalamazoo’s Civil War era catcher Jerome Trowbridge, “but he went down to Poughkeepsie to school and when he came back to Kalamazoo he told us of the other game and prevailed upon us to try it. We tried it and were thoroughly disgusted with the whole thing and wanted to go back to the old game, but John kept telling us that this would soon be the only game that would be played and he was right.” John McCord would in fact lead Kalamazoo’s early baseball teams for more than a decade.
Village treasurer Oscar Coleman remembered organizing Kalamazoo’s first community baseball team sometime before the Civil War, probably about 1858. As Coleman later recalled, he met one afternoon with Judge W.W. Peck and others at Cummings’ Cigar Store on South Burdick Street and established the then unnamed club.
By the spring of 1859, there was at least one “official” baseball club in Kalamazoo (most likely Coleman’s), and according to the Kalamazoo Telegraph, there was “plenty of material for a dozen more.” The team’s first out-of-town opponents were from Galesburg and Schoolcraft, but clubs from Augusta, Barry County, and elsewhere soon followed. “At the time we started to play the new game,” Trowbridge recounted, “there were but three teams in the west who played as we did. There was a team in Chicago, one at Jackson and one at Rockford, Illinois. It was not long, however, until there were plenty of such teams all over the state.”
The Champion Base Ball Club (1860)
By 1860, the Kalamazoo baseball team had become an organized body of twenty-five individuals known as the Champion Base Ball Club. The team roster included John McCord, Jerome Trowbridge, and Judge Peck, plus Ira C. Tuttle, J.M. Robinson, William (J.) Doody, C.K. Tuttle, S.R. Wheeler, M.A. Allen, F. Burlingham, Sheriff William E. White, H. White, A. Stevens, J.P. Cadman, H.L. Church, G.N. Ives, O.H. Brusie, B. Seeley, Clark L. Mott, William G. Howard, P. Ranney, J.B. Judson, G.D. Penfield, and George Fish. Champion Club officers for 1860 were (team captain) A.H. Randall, C.C. Dolloway, H.M. Brown, and George Dodge.
Friends and fans gathered at the “new grounds” on North Burdick Street to watch the Champions take on rivals from nearby Galesburg and Schoolcraft. More often, however, the Champion club would split in two with the “married men” taking on the “single,” and many times the battles would end with the losing team buying supper for all back downtown at the Burdick House. “They had to play hard to win,” remembered Trowbridge, “and they deserved a good meal.”