Usually at this point in the winter season most Canadians are ready for a break from the weather; a “seventh-inning stretch” so to speak. We long for warm sunshine and green grass and our thoughts turn to pleasant summer pastimes like picnics, trips to the beach, or playing a good old-fashioned game of baseball.
The origin of the seventh-inning stretch is a little muddled, but one popular theory credits baseball enthusiast William Howard Taft, 27th President of the United States. While attending the Opening Day game between the Washington Senators and Philadelphia Athletics on April 14, 1910 the President, a tall and rather rotund man, became increasingly uncomfortable on his wooden chair. When he rose in the middle of the seventh inning to stretch his frame, his fellow spectators followed his lead as a sign of respect for their leader. The tradition could date to an earlier time as a letter written in 1869 by Cincinnati Red Stockings manager Harry Wright reported “The spectators all arise between halves of the seventh inning, extend their legs and arms and sometimes walk about. In so doing they enjoy the relief afforded by relaxation from a long posture upon hard benches.” Whatever its origin, the tradition of the seventh-inning stretch continues to be observed today in the US and increasingly so in Canada.
A recent donation to the village reveals a local connection to the game of baseball - an early 20th century wood bat manufactured by The Columbia Handle and Lumber Company of London. Located on Adelaide Street near Horton, the company was better known as a supplier of tool handles. The bat is a “Black Betsy” model, fashioned after one made in 1903 for the famous ball player Shoeless Joe Jackson. An “X” is carved into the lower shaft of the bat, likely marking the “sweet spot”, the place on the bat where the player wants to connect with the ball for the best possible hit and the least possible vibration.
Another exciting artifact in the village’s collection is a very early baseball with a unique design. Known as a “lemon peel”, this ball is covered with a single piece of medium brown leather tied off with four distinct lines of stitching. Constructed sometime between 1840 and 1860, these early baseballs were often made by players or local merchants so did not conform to a standard size. They were also lighter and softer, causing them to bounce higher and travel further, resulting in very high-scoring games. Prior to 1845, runners could be thrown out by getting “soaked” or hit directly with a ball by a fielder, so a softer baseball did have its advantages!