top of page

Fort Wayne's First Historical Baseball Team



By Tim Kindler - Originally published in the NEIBA Line Drives March 2003 Newletter


Fort Wayne’s place in baseball history will forever be remembered because of a historical opening day game that took place here in May of 1871. What made this opening day so special was that it was the first ever professional baseball game played.


On March 17, 1871 a group of baseball club representatives met at Collier’s Cafe in New York City to form a professional baseball league; the first of its kind. Reps from the Athletics of Philadelphia; the White Stockings of Chicago; the Red Stockings of Boston; the Mutuals of New York; the Olympics of Washington D.C.; the Haymakers of Troy; the Kekiongas of Fort Wayne; Forest City of Rockford, Illinois and the Forest City Club of Cleveland attended. Together they formed the National Association of Professional Baseball Teams or the National Association for short.


Early in April, George J.E. Meyer, secretary of the Kekiongas, went to the New York area to search for talent to play for the Fort Wayne squad. The New York/Jersey/Baltimore area was the hotbed for baseball talent during this time. This was where the game originated and talent saturated the area. Most of the Kekionga's players came west to play in 1871.


By the first of May, the teams had set their rosters, although the changed often throughout the year, and were ready to start the season. The first game of the new league was played right here in Fort Wayne. The contest between the Kekiongas and the Cleveland Forest City Club took place at the Kekionga Ball Grounds which was located just west of the St. Mary’s River on land to the north of West Main Street running almost to the canal (now the tracks of the Nickel Plate Railroad). The game was played on May 4th, 1871. A full play by play account was printed in the Cleveland papers the next day. From these accounts, the following has been summarized:

It was the finest game of baseball ever witnessed in the City, and the play throughout was spectacular. The members of both clubs established their reputations as among the most perfect baseball players in the United States. There was not an error by Cleveland and only three by Fort Wayne. The batting was not as “heavy” as in some games, although the pitching was superior, especially the pitching of Bobby Mathews of Fort Wayne. The umpiring was fair, impartial, and satisfactory to both clubs. The attendance on the grounds was around 500, low probably due to the threat of bad weather. But, the enthusiasm of those there ran high, The Kekiongas won the toss and sent Forest City to bat. In the bottom of the second and again in the fifth, the Kekiongas scored one run, giving them a two run edge. Behind the pitching of Mathews, they would need only one and shut out the Forest City Club 2 to 0. In the ninth inning, the rain came down in torrents and the game was called. Fort Wayne’s team of young unknowns had won the first game of the new league. 



This spectacular victory, Bobby Mathews’ pitching and an upset of the strong Mutuals team in June, proved to be the few highlights for the Kekiongas that season. Among their many losses included a 22-0 clobbering by the Boston squad led by future Hall of Famers Harry and George Wright; and a 20-3 loss and 26-7 loss to the eventual league champion Athletics. At Washington, the Olympics scored 18 runs in one inning on them. The strangest loss came during a June 19th game in which they led 6 to 3 over Troy, but forfeited because they refused to provide a new game ball after the first one, provided by Troy, was ripped apart. Rule 5, Section 1 stated that the other team had to do so in a case like this or forfeit the game. Why Fort Wayne wouldn’t throw in a new ball is a mystery.   


By the end of August, the Kekiongas had had enough. Their record was 6-13; he worst in the league. The club owners decided to disband and were replaced in the league by the Brooklyn Eckfords, later to become the Brooklyn Dodgers. It would be over one hundred years before Fort Wayne would again have a team that was associated with the “professional” level. 


Much about the team and the players who played has been lost to time. Other than the famous opening day game, most is unknown about anything associated with the club. The following are a few interesting facts about the club and some of its players. 


  • The wood grandstand of the Kekiongas Ballgrounds was nicknamed the “Grand Dutchess”, due to its lavish construction. 


  • Most of the teams players had short stints in the new league. But, Tom Carey, second baseman, played nine season of professional baseball, all 5 of the National Association’s existence and 4 in the National League. He ended his career with a .256 lifetime batting average. Frank Williams, also known as Frank Selman, third baseman, also played every year of the National Association’s existence. 



The Kekiongas most notable player with their pitcher Bobby Mathews, mentioned earlier as one of the few bright spots on the club's history. Mathews was one of the stars of early organized baseball. He was one of the first pitchers to master the curve and spitball pitches. He hit .289 for the season, really impressive for the “deadball” standard. He pitched all 5 seasons in the National Association and ended with a career record of 132 wins and 11 losses. He went on to pitch 5 more seasons in the National League and 5 more in the American Association, then a major league as well. His career numbers in these two leagues warrant Hall of Fame consideration. He won 166 games, 30 wins in three consecutive seasons, and lost 138 games. He had 1199 strikeouts while only walking 336 batters. He was also on the pitching rotation of the 1879 Providence Gray’s National League Championship Team.  



 

With roots back to the 1940's, the Northeast Indiana Baseball Association (NEIBA) works to celebrate baseball in Fort Wayne. The organization hosts an annual Hall of Fame and Awards Banquet and publishes a quarterly publication, Line Drives. Learn more about the Northeast Indiana Baseball Association on their website.






Comments


Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page