Oakland, Kentucky native Jennie Bryant Cole recalled that community’s first baseball team in a short historical sketch written in 1939. Known as the Oakland Reds, the team formed about 1881. Each player wore red flannel trousers and “any kind of shirt that suited him.” Perhaps their greatest victory was in a game at Horse Cave in which they trounced their opponents 22-2. At home, the team’s field consisted of a patch of pasture and a grandstand, where fans enjoyed watching for some 30 years.
Baseball’s rich folklore–stories, superstitions and oral traditions–is explored in several papers housed in the Folklife Archives. Examining newspaper reports surrounding some of the great milestones of the game, Kevin Kelly found allusions to the supernatural and the superhuman, as well as the usual obsession with numbers and statistics. During an oral history interview in Floyd County, Kentucky in 1984, James Spradlin heard about industrial leagues of coal miners and the excitement of witnessing baseball commissioner “Happy” Chandler (in between his two terms as governor of Kentucky) speak at the dedication of one of their fields. Another collection includes some of the countless player superstitions relating to the game: Always touch third base when returning from the field to the dugout. Never cross the bats when stacking them. Don’t put your right shoe on first or you’ll lose the game. Fans are equally superstitious. In 2009, Brendan Sullivan documented the extremely elaborate ritual of cap-touching, tongue-clicking and “bird noises” performed by a young fan in order to conjure up a win for his Philadelphia Phillies.