It’s no coincidence that a new visitor season on Mackinac Island begins as a new season of baseball gets into full swing. Both the crack of the bat and the clip-clop of horse hooves on Mackinac Island are unmistakable signs of spring.
Indeed, the crack of the bat has echoed through Mackinac Island for more than 150 years.
Here are a few fascinating facts about the history of baseball on Mackinac Island:
Mackinac Island is home to Michigan’s oldest, continually played ball field
The ball field on the parade grounds at historic Fort Mackinac goes way back to the 1870s when soldiers started playing baseball in their spare time. Back then, the military significance of the fort was waning, and soldiers served as park rangers in what was then Mackinac National Park. Because the soldiers had “liberal amounts of free time and officers who encouraged physical fitness,” they enthusiastically played the game that was evolving into the national pastime, recounts a book about life at Fort Mackinac in the late 1800s.
Eventually, the Fort Mackinac Base Ball Club formed and played matches against teams from around northern Michigan. The soldiers even built a grandstand with seating for up to 500 fans!
The grandstand is no longer there, but the “fort ball grounds” have continued to be the site of baseball games ever since. Local residents, summer workers and Boy and Girl Scout troops serving on Mackinac Island have played baseball there through the years.
Mackinac Island hosts an annual vintage base ball game each summer
The Fort Mackinac Never Sweats invite another base ball club to Mackinac Island to play a game, typically in late July. The vintage base ball game on Mackinac Island is played by 1860s rules: None of the fielders wear gloves, a ball caught on one bounce is an out and the pitcher, or “hurler,” tosses the ball underhanded.
Spectators can learn old-fashioned base ball cheers and maybe even catch a player or two flouting the rules by smoking cigars out on the field!
Baseball and the Sounds of Spring on Mackinac Island
For decades, when heralded baseball broadcaster Ernie Harwell welcomed fans to the start of a new season each spring, he recited a verse from the Bible: “For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.”
Maybe there’s nothing explicitly biblical about baseball. But there certainly is something about springtime that nurtures the human spirit, fuels us with hope, inspires us with beauty and bestows on us the miraculous gift of rebirth – the chance for a fresh start.
And just as that fresh start is seen in blooming flowers, it’s heard all over Mackinac Island. From the songs of birds in Mackinac Island State Park to the bells of bicycles being pedaled around town. From the swoosh of a golf club swinging through fresh, green grass to the gentle ripple of a kayak paddling through the water. From the soothing hum of a foghorn in the marina and the historic blast of a cannon at Fort Mackinac to the sound of a baseball popping into a mitt at the old ball field.
Each and every sound communicates the same thing: Lo, the winter is past! Baseball and Mackinac Island are back!
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