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The Winter Sport - Baseball

The original release of A Home Away From Home made a brief mention of baseball being played at the Park as early as 1914.

Although never a major of the Park's history and not warranting the destruction of another tree to expand the hard-copy version, the Web allows us to expand the history a little - perhaps those members of the current club that decided to hold their centenary in 2010 may like to read on ...

‘The Preston Cricket Club have started a baseball club in Preston and have been placed in C grade by the League.  Seventeen turned up to practice last Saturday and some gave promise of becoming good players. There is a good array of talent, the worst part is only nine can play at a time, but in baseball players can be changed during the game".

During the week following the practice session, Bill Dickens chaired a meeting at "Wilpend", North Preston, and the club was formally constituted.

Mr. Harry Bell was elected President, the four vice-presidents including Cr. James Paterson, but the practical side, most of the official positions were held by the cricketers.

Not surprisingly, Wallace Fyfe was made secretary, a prominent Seconds player, Walter Newbound became treasurer and the match and general committee comprised Dickens, Fyfe, Frank Bullouch, Harry Westmoreland and Thomas Bartley (later killed in the First World War).

Although baseball had been played intermittently in Melbourne for over 50 years, it was the visit of the American fleet and a series of demonstration games in 1908, plus a tour during 1914 by the leading American teams the New York Giants and Chicago White Sox that gave the sport its impetus.

Unlike today, however, baseball was a winter sport and the obvious choice for the cricketers of the summer months to keep their eye (and arm) in, and many of the District and Sub-District clubs had established teams Wallace Fyfe in later years claimed Preston was the first junior cricket club in Melbourne to form a baseball team).

Being played in winter, the new Preston club followed the lead of most other teams and were granted permission by the football clubs at Preston Park to play before football started.

Baseball matches remained as "curtain-raisers" to League football matches (the competing clubs usually from the same suburb as the football teams up until the early 1950s when the V.F.L. introduced its Thirds competition.

With just one practice session and a hastily convened meeting, Preston’s first match came the following Saturday against North Melbourne, the Leader noting that both teams had several players that had no experience with the game.

The sport was played under the auspices of the Victorian Baseball League in three sections, Preston playing in C Grade against a mixture of Second and Third teams from established clubs and a handful of newer teams : C Grade teams : (end of season order)  Port Melbourne, Melbourne 3, Preston, Essendon 2, Northcote 2, Malvern A, Williamstown 2, Collingwood 3, Hawthorn 2, YMCA (A), Richmond 2, Prahran 2, Carlton 2, , North Melbourne, North Richmond, Malvern B.

Certainly Preston adapted quickly to the unfamiliar rules – Fyfe captained the side, and with the leading bowler of summer months in Bill Blundell pitching, and a catcher named Gillies of whom little is known, they demolished North Melbourne with 24 runs to four, the Leader noting all batters managed at least one hit with Gillies managing the only "homer".

Thirteen wins two draws and three losses (a total of 778 runs) saw Preston make the semi-final, only to lose to the experienced Port Melbourne 7 to 23.  Port dominated the season, finishing on top of the ladder with just a single losss to Essendon and was rarely challenged on their way to taking out the 1914 C Grade title.

Like many others that had been in recess, the baseball club was re-formed in 1919 - "Bert" Howse generally credited with the revival, although Fyfe was undoubtedly involved.  These dates are verified despite the current Preston Baseball Club claiming to have been founded in 1910 and then rather prematurely celebrating their "centenary" year in 2010.

Perhaps an indication of the status of Preston as a suburb even as later as 1914 can be gauged from the following snippet after Preston finished second to Port Melbourne in their debut year:

"PRESTON HOSPITALITY  Under the guiding hand of W. H. Fyfe, Preston has experienced a most successful season in this, their first attempt to win baseball honours. All of the players who have had to make the seemingly long journey to reach the rendezvous of this club speak in high terms of the excellent spirit in which they are received at the home of the most northern of the metropolitan clubs. Consequently Preston had the good wishes of many players in the contest against -Port Melbourne, but unfortunately for them, they were up against one of the strongest teams that has competed for third-grade honours. Though they succeeded in collaring the opposing pitching towards the closing stages of the* game, never for one instant did they look like winning, notwithstanding the splendid efforts of Gillies and Westmorland. Sykes scored a run each time at bat, others to do well being Howes, Bartley, Fyfe, and Blundell".                 Winner, 28 August, 1914


Preston and Gowerville Park (Home).

Preston and Gowerville Park

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