Fort Wayne Kekiongas
Kekionga - pronounced KEY-key-awn-guh - is the name of Chief Little Turtle's Miami Indian settlement where the St. Joseph River and the St. Mary's River join to form the Maumee River. This was the largest settlement of the Miami tribe. General Mad Anthony Wayne erected Fort Wayne at that same confluence, and the modern city of Fort Wayne, Indiana grew up around the fort. In the language of the Miami tribe, kekionga means Blackberry Patch.
The honor of playing the first game of the newly organized National Association of Professional Baseball Players was decided by coin flip.
Bobby Mathews, 5'5", 140 lbs, and 20 years old, hurled a 2-0 shutout for the Kekiongas. Deacon White, catcher for the Cleveland Forest Citys got 3 hits in 4 at-bats; the other Cleveland players only shared 2 hits among them. Deacon White scored the first hit, the first extra-base hit (a double) and was the first to hit into a double-play.
Bobby Mathews, who went on to play five seasons each in the National Association, National League, and American Association, is the only player ever to pitch 100 games or to win at least 50 in three different major leagues. He is credited with inventing the spitball and the out-curve. Deacon White was another historic player, ending his 22-year career as playing owner of Buffalo's Brotherhood team.
In April 1862, several young men gathered in Fort Wayne, Indiana to form the Summit City Club to play baseball. Banker Allen Hamilton donated land between major thorofares Calhoun and Clinton Street, south of Lewis Street, for a ball field. The field was eventually named Hamilton Field.
Play was short-lived, as members enlisted in the Grand Army of the Republic, some dying in the war. The club reorganized in 1866, and a second team, the Kekionga Base Ball Club of Fort Wayne, was formed that year as well. The following year, several other teams were formed: the Twightwees, the Mechanics, the Socials, the Concordia Empires and the Keystones.
The Kekiongas played the legendary 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings twice. The Red Stockings were the first baseball team in the USA to have all paid players, and went $16,000 in debt - nearly half a million in today's dollars - to do so. Cincinnati won the first game 86-8, but as Fort Wayne had improved over the summer, they only achieved a 41-7 victory in the second contest. The 1869 Red Stockings ended up with 57 victories and 1 tie for the season.
The following summer, the Maryland Club of Baltimore broke up in mid-season, and the Kekiongas recruited their best players, including pitcher Bobby Matthews, who is credited with having invented the spitball and being the first master of the curveball. When the team played the Chicago White Sox later that season, the Chicago fans were so humiliated that they threw rocks at Fort Wayne players, injuring several of them.
The National Association of Professional Base-Ball Players was formed in New York, New York in 1871. In addition to the Kekiongas, the other teams were based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Chicago, Illinois, Boston, Massachusetts, Washington, D.C., Troy, New York, New York City, Cleveland, Ohio and Rockford, Illinois. Each team was to play a best-3-of-5 series with each other team, and the best team would be able to fly a pennant for a year. The franchise fee for each team was $10. Season tickets, or "Subscriptions" for the Kekiongas sold for $5 in 1871, and allowed entry to games for two people.
Early baseball nomenclature
Although the team is conventionally called the "Fort Wayne Kekiongas", using the modern context of a city name plus a nickname, the actual name of the team was "Kekionga" and was so listed in standings, rather than "Fort Wayne". Referring to the team as the "Kekiongas" is equivalent to calling the team from Chicago as the "Chicagos" or the team from Boston as the "Bostons".
Half a season
The community raised funds and erected a grandstand at Kekionga Base Ball Grounds, located on the former Union Army training grounds, Camp Allen. The grandstand was called "The Grand Dutchess" because of its lavish construction. (The publication Batter Up refers to the grandstand as the Grand Dutchess, not the Old Dutchess. It is also called the Grand Dutchess in Twentieth Century History of Fort Wayne, by John Ankenbruck and in an article in the Fort Wayne Daily Sentinel, November 6, 1871.)
Paid attendance was poor, and players were poorly paid, or not at all. A number of homesick players from Baltimore returned home. By mid-season, the team had fallen apart, and the last game was played on August 29, giving the Kekiongas 7 wins for the year. The team was managed by Bill Lennon for the first 14 games, then Harry Deane for the final five.
Leading the offense for the Kekiongas was first-baseman James H. "Jim" Foran, who hit .348. Only 23 at the time, he had previously played third-base for the Philadelphia Athletics. He never again played professional baseball, and died at the age of 80 in Los Angeles, California.
The Grand Dutchess burned down on November 5, 1871. By the time the fire department arrived, the fire had too great a start to salvage the grandstand.
Bobby Mathews won 6 and lost 11 games for the Kekiongas, but it probably was not his fault. He played five years in each of three different major leagues, and is the only player ever to win over 50 games in each of the major leagues. That's an even greater accomplishment considering that he played outfield on days he wasn't pitching. Bobby Mathews won 42 games in 1874 for the New York Mutuals (National League).
- Pitchers were restricted to underhand pitching until 1884. They delivered the ball from inside a "box", whose front line was 50 feet from home plate.
- Between 1879 and 1889, the number of balls required to walk a batter went from 9 to 8 to 6 to 7 to 5 and then to 4 balls.
- Batters were allowed to call for a high- or low-pitched ball between 1871 and 1887.
- It was four strikes to put out a batter in 1887, a rule that lasted only 1 year.
- Catching a foul ball is an out - but before 1883, it could bounce once.
- Spitballs were allowed until 1920.
- "Pictorial History of Fort Wayne, Indiana" by Bert J. Griswold, published 1917 by Robert O. Law
Parker, Robert D.,
- "Batter Up: Fort Wayne's Baseball History" by Robert D. Parker in Old Fort News, Summer, 1967.
- "Twentieth Century History of Fort Wayne" by John Ankenbruck, published 1975 by Twentieth Century Historical Fort Wayne, Inc.