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Our Beginnings and Our Rebirth

Spring Garden Hall. NW Corner 13th and Spring Garden streets. Late 1800s

Spring Garden Hall. NW Corner 13th and Spring Garden streets. Late 1800s

The Oakland Athletics currently use the motto “Rooted in Oakland” to signify that the team will continue to entrench itself in the “other city by the bay”. But the ancient roots for the name “Athletic” germinated some 2,874 miles east at the Handel and Haydn Society at the intersection of Sixth and Spring Garden streets in Philadelphia, Pa. on March 31, 1859; the club was organized as a town ball club.

The club really got its start in the Handel and Hayden Society, which held its meetings in its hall of Spring Garden Street. All the singers were interested in the game, so that baseball in Philadelphia really had high-class amateur musicians as its sponsors. The meeting to form the club was held in the society’s rooms. Mr. [John J.] Heisler, who was a liberal contributor to the expenses, presided. There was very much discussion over the name to be selected and Mr. Heisler made a short speech in which he said that something suggestive of action, of sport, should be chosen. One man suggested one name and we ran the whole range from Intrepid to Excelsior, when someone called out, “Why not call the club Athletic?” The suggestion was received with a roar of approval…

It’s unknown exactly how many competitive games Athletic played during their inaugural season but what is known is the club quickly switched their game of choice from town ball to base ball on April 7, 1860. The New York Clipper noted the change in its May 10, 1862 issue. “[Athletic] engaged the grounds belonging to the St. George cricket club, and began by playing town ball. The superiority of base ball being evident, and its popularity increasing, determined them to adopt it, and on the 7th of April, 1860, the Athletic base ball club became a fixed fact.”

Athletic remained a “fixed fact” until its expulsion near the end of the 1876 National League season. Another club named Athletic germinated in 1882 but within 10 years that club folded along with the American Association, and bare handed baseball disappeared from the baseball landscape in Philadelphia until 2010.

The idea for bare-handed baseball’s return to Philadelphia took root in August 2009 when Scott Alberts Ryan Berley and Eric Berley first brainstormed a vintage base ball club at McGillian’s Olde Ale House - a Philadelphia bar that opened in 1860. They researched the old Athletic club, its uniforms, and the game. Others followed and a few interested persons attended a Diamond State vintage base ball game in October. Informal practices were held until the club played its first game at the Chopper Tournament in Elkton, Maryland against the Elizabeth Resolutes on April 24, 2010. The second game in that tournament was played against the Bohemia Eurekas. Members who played in the first game were Scott Alberts, Ryan Berley, Jamie Ford, Steven Couch, Ed Skirkie, Eric Berley, Jon Palma, Neil Spak, and Greg Kereztury.

The cornerstone of the renewed Athletic club was historical accuracy which berthed the club’s inviting, inclusive culture. The culture developed as a result of member attitudes and their identification with the fraternal spirit that the earliest clubs exhibited. This spirit draws people to the club when it makes public appearances at monument dedications, history festivals, and during match play. Scott Alberts, the renewed club’s first President, explained his pride in what the club has become. “More than anything, I’m proud that what we have created is a true club, and not merely a team.”

The Athletic Base Ball Club of Philadelphia strives to promote historical accuracy through playing various forms of early base ball and enhancing the membership’s and public’s understanding of these games and the era. We welcome interested people and organizations to contact us about membership or future event opportunities.

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