FOR the last few years the game of base-ball, in colleges and universities, has lost much of its popularity, and has given way to football, which, as now played, is practically a new game.
The reason is that base-ball is more or less in the hands of professionals, while foot-ball is as yet entirely free from what one would call "professionalism." This article is written from a college point of view, and is designed to tell the young base-ball enthusiasts something concerning the handling and training of a base-ball team in one of our American colleges.
As soon as the foot-ball season is over, the captain and manager of the base-ball team decide as to their plans for the coming season. These include the number of games that shall be scheduled away from home, and also the home games, planning for the Easter trip, obtaining a competent man to coach the candidates for pitcher, and many other minor details that scarcely need mention here. No regular training is commenced until about the first of February, when all candidates are requested to present themselves at the gymnasium.
The first training is an average daily afternoon run of from a mile and a half to two miles; after this the candidates go to the "cage." In this building the candidates assemble, and go through a variety of movements designed to limber up the muscles; these exercises include moving the body up and down, keeping the back straight, and bending the knees; then, bending the back from the hips, with arms straight out from the shoulders, and trying to touch the ground without bending the knees; raising one's self on tiptoes, revolving the arms in a circle in front of the chest, first in one direction, then the opposite; and finally, with hands on hips, moving the body from one side to the other.
On Wednesday and Saturday afternoons, these being half-holidays, the training work commences earlier. Before taking the accustomed run, a few grounders are knocked to each man, the benefit being very great, as it teaches a player to handle himself well, even though he is an outfielder. Outfielders have quite a number of grounders to stop during the season, and many games have been lost through the inability of some of the men to stop such balls. This practice also limbers the player's throwing arm, as he throws nearly the length of the cage. It is also a great help to a captain, as it is the only way in which he is able to test, weed out, and get rid of some of his superfluous material. For these reasons, too, it is well to practise picking up grounders even in a gymnasium with a wooden floor, if a school team is deprived of the advantages of a cage.
The Catcher in Armor.
When the number of candidates is reduced a little, and the days grow longer, the Wednesday and Saturday afternoon practice is taken up daily, and base sliding is added.
Base sliding on the hard ground in the cage requires a good deal of nerve for a man who has never slid head first before. Even if he has the required nerve, he is often liable to injure himself. For this reason Mr. Stagg, a former captain of the Yale base-ball team, invented a sliding machine, which consists of a wooden frame with a heavy piece of carpet stretched tight across it. This is so placed that the carpet rests upon the ground. After a few lessons on this, the new men slide on the ground without fear of being hurt.
About the first of March the coach arrives, and takes charge of the pitchers. A college team should have four pitchers. Two of them should be first-class ones, and the other two above the average. It is always a good thing to have an eye on the future in selecting and coach-ing pitchers; for a college, sooner or later, has to lose its star players, as graduation day comes around and the senior is no longer an undergraduate.
There are many different opinions in regard to the advantages and disadvantages of using a cage to practise batting in. It has many disadvantages for this particular use. The light is apt to be very poor; the space too small. Because of these two drawbacks the eye is compelled to follow the ball in an enclosure with a background. When he is in the open field the player will find what a difference this makes. A good example of these disadvantages was seen In the Harvards' heavy batting team of 1891. They did not use the cage to practise batting in, although they have an excellent one.
The First Baseman.
But, on the other hand, this cage practice is excellent in giving a man batting form, and practice in swinging the bat. The cage is invaluable also for battery practice.
It is very seldom that a team can obtain more than a week's out-door practice before the Easter trip; so by the end of March, which is the time that the Easter trip commences, the team is very rusty. About fifteen or sixteen men are taken on the trip, and a game is arranged for every day. These games, as a rule, are against professionals. After a week's play the team returns home, and plays two or three games a week during the remainder of the season. The work at the field every afternoon, except when a game is scheduled, consists of an hour's batting and a halfhour's fielding, a little base sliding, and fifteen or twenty minutes' team practice.
Sliding for Base.
It might be well to say a few words here concerning table diet when training for base-ball. The old custom was to feed the different athletic teams on nothing but rare beef and potatoes. Now, however, the bill of fare consists of wholesome food with quite a variety. For breakfast we have fruit, oatmeal, steak, omelet, and potatoes; for lunch, steak, cold beef or chicken, and potatoes; for dinner we have soup, chicken, beef, mashed potatoes, pease or corn, and tomatoes, with bread, tapioca or custard pudding for dessert, and twice a week we have ice-cream. Toast is served at every meal; oatmeal water and milk to drink. The potatoes are cooked in nearly every style except fried. Hashed and browned is generally the favorite way. So, you see, training is not starving.
This brief statement of training, though referring to college base-ball work, may also be of suggestion and use to boys who are going in for a course in base-ball, and wish to make their home club strong and successful players.
BY LAWRENCE T. BLISS, Captain of the Vale Base-Sail Team of 1893.