It’s no coincidence that a new season on Mackinac Island typically begins in April as a new season of baseball gets into full swing. Both the crack of the bat at the baseball stadium or Little League field near you and the clip-clop of horse hooves on Mackinac Island are unmistakable signs of spring.
Unfortunately, this year is turning out differently. Although spring has sprung, neither baseball nor Mackinac Island tourism have emerged from their winter slumber yet, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that has postponed the start of a new season on Mackinac Island.
But that doesn’t stop us from fantasizing about either one! Or both at the same time!
Here’s something to mull over while you’re in quarantine:
Did you know that Mackinac Island is home to the oldest continually played ballfield in all of Michigan?
Indeed, the crack of the bat has echoed through Mackinac Island for 150 years. The field on the parade grounds at Fort Mackinac goes way back to the 1870s when soldiers started playing baseball in their spare time.
Back then, the military significance of the fort was waning, and soldiers served as park rangers in what was then Mackinac National Park. Because the Fort Mackinac soldiers had “liberal amounts of free time and officers who encouraged physical fitness,” they enthusiastically played the game that was evolving into the national pastime.
Eventually, the Fort Mackinac Base Ball Club formed and played matches against teams from around northern Michigan. The soldiers even built a grandstand with seating for up to 500 fans!
The grandstand is no longer there, but the “fort ball grounds” have continued to be the site of baseball games ever since the fort’s closing in 1895. Local residents, summer workers and Boy and Girl Scout troops have played baseball there through the years.
For the past two decades, the field has hosted an annual vintage baseball game featuring the Fort Mackinac Never Sweats.
The game is played by 1860s rules. None of the fielders wear gloves, a ball caught on one bounce is an out and the pitcher, or “hurler,” tosses the ball underhanded.
For decades, when heralded baseball broadcaster Ernie Harwell welcomed fans to the start of a new season each spring, he recited a verse from the Bible:
“For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.”
Maybe there’s nothing explicitly biblical about baseball. But there certainly is something about springtime that nurtures the human spirit, fuels us with hope, inspires us with beauty and bestows on us the miraculous gift of rebirth – the chance for a fresh start.
And just as that fresh start is seen in blooming flowers, it’s heard all over Mackinac Island. From the songs of birds in Mackinac Island State Park to the bells of bicycles being pedaled around town. From the swoosh of a golf club swinging through fresh, green grass to the gentle ripple of a kayak paddling through the water. From the soothing hum of a foghorn in the marina and the historic blast of a cannon at Fort Mackinac to the sound of a baseball popping into a mitt at the old ballfield.
Each and every sound communicates the same thing: Lo, the winter is past! We hope to hear those sounds on Mackinac Island soon!