Native Village 
Youth and Education News
May, 2013

Baseball: More than a pastime for the S’Klallam | Noo-Kayet, Our Village
Condensed by Native Village

“The Strong People: A History of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe” is a collection of historical accounts and personal stories written by elders and members of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe. One topic in particular surprises readers: the S’Klallam connection to baseball.

The Port Gamble S'Klallam love affair with baseball began in the late 1800s. S’Klallam children learned the sport while attending boarding schools. Their parents who worked at the Puget Mills were encouraged to play for the company team.

“It was not long before the S’Klallams were embracing baseball so enthusiastically that it seemed as if they were the inventors of the game," wrote author, elder and former chairman Ron Charles.

But why was baseball so popular, and why does it remain the sport of choice among S'Klallam today? Charles thinks it's because Native Americans had a passion for competitive games long before Europeans invaded. Baseball may have seemed quite similar to some games they were familiar with.

Baseball also served as a natural extension to S'Klallam cultural activities.

“S’Klallam youth naturally gravitated toward outdoor activities, as early in life they began to learn their tribe’s hunting, fishing, and gathering practices, and in doing so, they ran, jumped, swam, and sometimes invented their own competitive games, which served them well when they were old enough to help harvest the subsistence foods that fed their families,” Charles writes. “Years of participating in these physical activities tended to produce fast, strong, and agile athletes with very good hand-eye coordination. All of these skills were quite important to the game of baseball.”

Tribal life has always included strong connections between family and friends. Baseball games provided an outlet for get-togethers. Rose Purcer recalls that during the 1940s and ’50s, S'Klallam families looked forward to game day, especially when they played other reservation teams. The whole day became a social event.

"The wives from the home teams would prepare a picnic lunch, and after the guys would finish playing, both sides would get together and eat," she wrote.  "I just loved those times when we would get together to catch up on news from relatives and friends.’ ”

Baseball’s popularity in Indian country increased as rapidly as it did across America. Some Indian players toured the country and world with their teams. In the 1950s and ’60s, all-Indian baseball leagues were being considered. But it was the home teams that brought out the most passionate fans.

“The S’Klallam community was well known for its rabid baseball fans, and on game days they turned out loudly to cheer on their guys. They were experts at ‘getting under the skin’ of opposing players. These fans were greatly pleased when their antics could elicit responses from opposing players, causing them to ‘lose their cool.’

“Even through the toughest of economic times, players could always find ways to collect enough balls, bats, and equipment, and on a bright summer day nothing could be more therapeutic than a baseball game. Baseball was also a good way to take one’s mind off the problems of the day, especially from some of the indignities S’Klallams suffered at the hands of a dominant society not yet prepared to treat Native Americans as equals ...

“Baseball, however, was more than just a sport for the S’Klallam community, and when their players performed well on the field, they were not simply showing how talented they were, they were showing pride in using the game of baseball to express S’Klallam cultural values and identity.”

In 2009, the Tribe began recognizing elders who played baseball for Port Gamble S'Klallam teamss. The tradition continues today. Veteran players receive a jacket identifying them as a member of the Little Boston Baseball Ring of Honor. The elders wear these jackets with great pride.

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