Swing, Batter, Batter, Swing: Baseball in WWI

Swing, Batter, Batter, Swing: Baseball in WWI

It’s summer and baseball season is in full swing. As Canadians around the country may be throwing the ball back and forth in their backyards or watching their favourite little league or professional teams play ball, we’re taking a look back to the First World War and how important this sport was to Canadian troops.

Although baseball is primarily considered a North American sport made famous by our neighbours to the south, it originated from older European bat-and-ball games, most notably the British game of ‘rounders’. Baseball made its way to Canada in the early 19th century, and quickly became popular. As a matter of fact, the legendary Babe Ruth hit his first professional home run on Canadian soil on September 5, 1914, at a stadium located on Center Island in Toronto!

Of all the popular sports played by troops stationed during the Great War, including rugby, cricket and soccer, baseball was the most distinctly North American. When soldiers were off-duty, sports were considered by military leaders (and by extension, the general public) to be an acceptable ‘gentlemanly’ pursuit, as opposed to gambling, drinking and carousing. In addition, the general rules and conduct of sport were considered to be a positive moral influence on fighting men. As the fighting between the Allies and the Germans devolved into trench warfare, there was a lot of downtime behind the lines, and during that time, quite a lot of baseball was played in organized military leagues.

Before the War, Toronto, Ontario was home to a thriving baseball scene. Soon the sport spread quickly across Canada.

Here are a few baseball facts from WWI:

01 / Baseball was actually one of the most popular games played by Canadian soldiers as an off-battlefield pastime, to the point where the American League of Major League Baseball actually donated equipment to Canada’s Minister of Defence!

02 / In addition to his service in the field, future Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson counted hitting a home run in a military baseball league among his accomplishments after returning from the war.

03 / Popular trench slang employed baseball terms to describe war as ‘the game’ or ‘the sport’. One’s first deployment to the battlefield was called ‘the rookie season’, heavy artillery fire was known as ‘home runs’, a soldier’s death was described as when a man’s ‘innings were called’, and, in a reverse case of military words influencing wartime baseball, bad pitchers were called ‘duds’.

Topics: Tour Planning, History, WWI

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