On this day … 3 May 1890

An item in the Preston Chronicle poked gentle fun at the idea of baseball proving popular in Preston, yet before long the laugh was on the Chronicle when baseball became a regular summer fixture at the Deepdale ground that year, and a North End team carried off the English Amateur Baseball championship at the end of the season.

The item in the Chronicle recorded that:

A couple of American cousins, along with a Metropolitan gentleman, visited Preston, a few days ago, with the view of introducing, or developing a taste for, the national pastime of America–baseball … Now baseball playing is, certainly, not an uninteresting game, when you have little or nothing to do, and might, possibly, form an agreeable change from tennis, croquet and other minor diversions during the summer …

… in recreational matters the affections and the money of Lancashire folk are principally bound up in cricket and football; and they need not be one bit disappointed or annoyed if their enterprise results in nothing.

Football, the writer argued, was the manly sport of choice for Prestonians, and was ‘of a much more vigorous character than baseball, which, by comparison, is but a sentimental speck on the cheek of nature’.

But by the following month, the Chronicle was carrying an item headed ‘Baseball at Deepdale’, which reported on two games played by the newly-formed North End team against a team from Derby and another representing Aston Villa. North End lost both games.

The Chronicle was still doubtful that the game had a future in Preston, noting that attendance was only ‘fairly moderate’, and somewhat sneeringly remarking that ‘Baseball playing is but rounders in a scientifically improved form’.

But the laugh was again on the Chronicle, for the people of Preston were clearly taking to American ‘rounders’. In one week in July there were three baseball matches at Deepdale. On the Monday, North End were again defeated by a Derby team, but on Wednesday evening they beat a Stoke team 24-3, and on the Thursday they played Aston Villa again, this time winning.

The following week, when North End again played Stoke, a crowd of a thousand watched the home side score another victory. Two days later, North End travelled to Birmingham for a return match against Aston Villa, who they easily defeated. Then they faced Stoke again for an away fixture, and again they were victorious, notching up a run of six consecutive wins.

By now, North End was heavily engaged in promoting baseball, and in August the team played in five exhibition games, aiming to boost the number of teams regularly playing to eight. Also, the Chronicle had abandoned its previous levity and was providing proper match reports.

The captain of this first North End team was an American, Leech Maskrey, and when he returned to the States in September, the team met at the Shelley Arms and he was presented with a gold watch chain by the North End manager William Sudell. Sudell expressed the hope that the next season England would be rivalling America at the game, and that before long English teams would be crossing the Atlantic to compete.

The team were back at the Shelley Arms next year when they were presented with their Amateur Baseball Championship cup, ‘the first that had ever been offered or won by any team of baseball in England’, by the organiser of the competition, an American businessman.

A week later a second team, The Fulwood Amateur Baseball Club, was formed after an inaugural meeting at the Withy Trees public house. The North End and Fulwood teams competed in a match at Deepdale in June, where a thousand spectators watched North End win 28-9.

The following year a team from New York visited Preston and narrowly beat the North End side 16-15.

The trip did not end well. The Americans were staying at the Bull Hotel (now Bull and Royal), discovered they did not have enough money to pay their bill, and ended up walking the streets until William Sudell came to their rescue and found them alternative accommodation.

Baseball match in the 19th century in Liverpool

No Preston baseball image, but CNN carried the above drawing of an American team at Liverpool on their first visit to England. CNN reported that the game was not as all-American as usually claimed, turning up a reference to the game in the eighteenth-century diary of an English lawyer, William Bray:

‘Went to Stoke church this morn.,’ wrote Bray on Easter Monday in 1755. ‘After dinner, went to Miss Jeale’s to play at base ball with her the 3 Miss Whiteheads, Miss Billinghurst, Miss Molly Flutter, Mr. Chandler, Mr. Ford and H. Parsons. Drank tea and stayed til 8.’


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