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.