The Valdosta “Wide-Awakes”
By Donald O. Davis
Coming across this article on 1875 baseball in Valdosta is special, like finding a gold coin, unknown history of your community coming to light. I ran across this article in 2010 in the Judge Folks Huxford Collection at the Huxford-Spear Library in Homerville. Judge Huxford preserved several years’ issues of the Pearson Tribune around the time Atkinson County was formed in 1917. The editor of the Tribune during that time, B. T Allen, had lived in Valdosta many years before. He often included a story on South Georgia history covering different counties and topics. The information in the “Wide-Awakes” article implies that this may be the first “official” baseball team formed in Valdosta.
Friday, September 26, 1919
Memories of Long Ago
Valdosta’s Early Base-Ball Enthusiasm and Success.
From the time base ball became the national game and was introduced into Georgia as a pastime, Valdosta has had her quota of fans. In 1875 the Tribune editor was associated with Mr. C. R. Pendleton in the publication of the “The South Georgia Times” now the “The Valdosta Times” and advocated the game as a manly sport. Mr. Pendleton was heartily in accord with the proposition, although he was nearsighted and could take no active part in the game.
Through the persistent effort of the Times a club was formed, composed of the following personel:
J.W. McNamara, P.
J.C. Hunt, C.
H.E. Hutchens, 1st B.
F.P. Gale, 2nd B.
R. Thomas, Jr., 3rd B.
J.N. Griffin, S.S.
W.L. Thomas, R.F.
Taylor Hunt, C.F.
J.F. Stapler, L.F.
S.L. Varnedoe and B.T. Allen, Substitutes.
The last named individual was an inefficient player because he had no speed as a runner.
Mr. McNamara came to Valdosta as a peregrinating painter, but a better base ball player – the best pitcher the writer has ever seen. He hailed from Boston, Mass., and the boys were dubious of him for a whild, until he proved himself to be worthy of their confidence and esteem. He became a Minister of the Disciples of Christ, moved to Florida where he died.
J.C. Hunt was born and reared in Lowndes county, in the vicinity of Clyattville, and was related to the Clyatts. At the time he was without a peer as a catcher. He married a Miss Cashen and his descendants are splendid citizens.
H.E. Hutchens was the efficient agent of Valdosta’s one railroad. He was tall, agile and a sure catch and made an ideal first baseman. He went from Valdosta to Savannah and promoted to chief clerk in the freight department of the Atlantic & Gulf Railroad.
F.P. Gale came to Valdosta with his parents during the reconstruction period. He knew his position and gave fine support as a second baseman. His father was a dentist, and he took up that profession. He married a Miss Griffin of Aucilla, Fla., and settled down to practice of his profession. He was a brother to Judge A.D. Gale, of Brunswick.
R. Thomas, Jr., the third baseman, was without an equal in that position. His father was a physician and druggist, and he was his fathers clerk. He afterwards became a registered druggist and acquired a fine business in Thomasville. He was born in Hamilton county, Florida.
J.N. Griffin was born and reared in Lowndes county. He wore the belt for running and jumping, and these qualities admirably fitted him for the position of short stop. He is now a successful business man of Valdosta, and in the market for your wool every season.
W.L. Thomas was an older brother of the third baseman, and a fine catcher of flies. He filled the position of right fielder to perfection. He was a successful business man, junior partner of the dry goods firm of Wiley & Thomas. His wife was a Miss Jones, and they the parents of Judge William E. Thomas.
Taylor Hunt, the centre fielder, was a brother of the catcher, and an all round good player. It was said of him that he could talk you to death while caring for the central garden.
J.F. Stapler was born and reared in the Bellville, Fla. Community, just over the Lowndes county line. He played left fielder well, and was an all around clever boy.
This team was splendid athletic timber. It was organized as the “Wide-Awake Base Ball Club” was all its name implied, and fully illustrated the Valdosta spirit on every diamond where it played.
The ladies made and presented the team a beautiful silk banner and, like “Old Glory,” it was never defeated.
At the county fairs in those days tournaments, base ball and similar amusements were used instead of the present Midway. The fair management offered prizes to induce these amusements to attend the fairs.
At the Thomasville Fair of 1875 there were four baseball teams competing for the prizes: Savannah, Lake Iamonia, Quitman, and Valdosta. Games were played in the morning and in the afternoon except Friday afternoon, when the Tournament took place. Valdosta was represented in the Tournament by Sir Knights James F. Stapler and John R. Young. H.M. Branch of Mitchell county on first prize and the honor of crowning the Queen of the Tournament.
The “Wide Awakes” cleaned up the baseball field and carried home a good bunch of money. In those days there were no mits, no safeguards against getting hurt; the ball had to be caught with the bare hands. In the game Thursday morning with the Savannah team known as the “Georgia Base Ball Club,” James C. Hunt, the Valdosta catcher, receiving some of McNamara’s rifle shot twisters, had his left hand split open between the third and the fourth fingers. The savannah lads thought it was all up with their opponents and suggested the agreement that Savannah take first prize and the championship and Valdosta second prize. Hunt coolly informed them they would have to win all they got, bathed his wound with Arnica, tied his hand up with a handkerchief and requested the umpire to call “play ball.” At the close of the sixth inning the Valdostans had gained such a lead the Savannah lads saw they were absolutely overwhelmed; they not only threw up the game but left for home on the first train, and the “Wide-Awake Base Ball Club,” of Valdosta, was declared the winners of the first prize and the championship.