Kitten Ball

“Let us go forth awhile, and get better air in our lungs. Let us leave our closed rooms… The game of ball is glorious.”

Walt Whitman

The winter in the Pacific Northwest is one of short days and long nights. It’s a lot like Michigan, just not as cold. In Michigan the winters were spent skating on lakes and man made rinks in friends back yards, here in the PNW the basketball courts are often covered with a roof to allow year round play in the rain.

The industrial revolution not only brought the world an array of new consumer and manufacturing items but it brought the need for exercise in an increasingly mechanized world. This need for exercise is best exemplified by the invention of basketball and volleyball in Massachusetts in the 1890’s. Of course at the time the passion of the nation was on one ballgame and it had nothing to do with a pig or a scrimmage. It was baseball of course that held the pulse of the sporting mad Americans in the crowded and empty cities that dotted the landscape. 

This need for exercise in the long cold months of winter was broached by a group of Chicago gentlemen in 1887, amongst them was George Hancock, a reporter for Chicago Board of Trade, who took it upon himself to design a new game and undertake it at the Farragut Boat Club. Hancock introduced 19 special rules that were exclusive to indoor baseball. The Mid Winter Indoor Baseball League of Chicago officially adopted these rules in 1889.

But the real push for the game came from a group of fireman in Minneapolis, a city known for its long winters. Fire lieutenant, Louis Rober used the game to keep his staff fit, later at another Fire Company he named their team “The Kittens” and soon as the popularity of the game grew in the Midwest and it was often referred to as “Kitten Ball.”

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, The American Sports Publishing Company headed by Albert Spalding published a series of “guides” some of which were aimed at teaching women the nuances of indoor baseball.

After being recognized by several names such as kitten ball, diamond ball, army ball, mush ball, indoor-outdoor, recreation ball, and playground ball. Finally in 1926 Walter Hakanson, a Denver YMCA official finally suggested the name softball, which stuck for good.

Eventually those new indoor games like Basketball and Volleyball began to demand gym space and the indoor version of the game waned and became more of an outdoor alternative to baseball for woman, mixed groups or folks looking to attack the diamond at a slower pace. One thing’s for sure the pace isn’t always slow.

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