Diamond Reflections: THE AMES NINE
1911 Varsity Baseball team
(or “base ball”, as it was known at the time) emerged during the
latter half of the nineteenth century as a popular recreational game.
It was played very informally, with little of the equipment and few of
the rules that now characterize the game.
Click on the picture to the right and note the small size of the glove and the lack of webbing between the thumb and forefinger. Players fielded the ball barehanded until the 1890s. Not until 1920 would players enjoy gloves with preformed pockets. Helmets are not incorporated until 1941 and not required in professional baseball until 1958.
Many of the rules we take for granted were also unheard of during the early years of baseball at Iowa State. For example, not until 1889 do four balls become a walk - the 1888 team below would have not used that so familiar rule. And not until 1901 do foul balls count as strikes.
Baseball in Iowa grew as it did in the rest of the nation and students in Ames circled the diamond regularly during their scarce free time. The first formal game was played in 1892, but a writer for the 1895 Bomb supposed, “that the oldest alumnus cannot remember the first game of base ball played at I.A.C.” One of the firsts sports played on the campus, games were generally casual contests between groups of friends but as interest piqued classes would often challenge each other and occasionally the game pitted students against faculty.
to facilitate game play between universities, the Iowa Intercollegiate
Base Ball Association formed in the spring of 1892. Initially it
consisted of the Iowa Agricultural College (ISU), Grinnell College,
State University (UI), Drake University, Iowa College (UNI). Cornell
College of Mt. Vernon joined the Association in 1893. To stimulate
competition, the league set up a trophy to be awarded to the season
champions until one team won three consecutive years and won the
forty-dollar silver bat outright. A strong team from the beginning,
I.A.C. eventually won possession of the bat.
The team was consistently plagued by a lack of players returning to college for the next season. The days of recruiting players and athletic scholarships were not yet visible, leaving teams to depend on who turned up to play each spring. Then, as today, players often left college to play professionally. Major league franchises draw from much younger teams than their counterparts in football and basketball, who often wait to draft until a player is well into college.
One of the highlights of baseball in Ames was tying Oklahoma for second place in the 1923 championship.
Another dimension of baseball during the early years of the game at Iowa State was class baseball, a very popular legacy from the time before baseball was a competitive, intercollegiate sport. Without other teams from other colleges to hone their skills against, students created teams from the student body and furthered the natural rivalry between classes. Games challenged one class to conquer another or members of the faculty on the diamond. As intercollegiate play became more common, this tradition evolved into more of a junior varsity-type play to introduce freshman students to baseball at the college level. Players often went on to play for the Iowa State team after a year with the freshman team.