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21Country: Baseball’s first professional league game, 150 years ago

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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WPTA) - May 4 is a special day in baseball, especially here in 21Country.

A monument marks a historic site at Camp Allen Park, alongside the St. Marys River.

“You could argue that Fort Wayne was part of the first professional sports league in America, which is kind of cool,” sports historian Blake Sebring told us.

Sebring has literally written the book on sports history in Fort Wayne.

“The Kekiongas were a club team in Fort Wayne,” he said, “they had a little bit of a reputation in the midwest as being a good team.”

In 1871, they were invited to join the National Association of Professional Baseball Players.

A city in Ohio was slated to make history that day.

But Mother Nature had other plans.

“The first game was originally supposed to happen in Cincinnati like it is traditionally now and days… but the game got rained out,” Sebring explained, “the next game on the schedule happened to be the Cleveland Forest Cities in Fort Wayne, later that afternoon. And that became the first professional league sports game.”

Rain would also wreak havoc on the Kekiongas, but not before they claimed victory, thanks to the help of their creative pitcher.

“Bobby Matthews, who a lot of people believed, or was reported to have invented the curveball,” Sebring told us, “he was the pitcher that day, for the Kekiongas, and he got the two to nothing shutout.”

Unfortunately, the lifespan of the team would only last a few years, not even completing the season after that historic game.

But Fort Wayne continues to churn out talent, just as it did 150 years ago.

“We’ve had a variety of athletes over the years that have really done well professionally in reaching major leagues. You’ve got Zach McKinstry with the Dodgers right now. You’ve got Josh VanMeter with Arizona,” he added, “they’ve proven it could be done and it encourages kids to dream to ‘you know, maybe I can make that and do that to’.”

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Daniel Beals

Daniel Beals is the producer of the ABC21 feature franchise “21Country”. He is constantly on the lookout for ideas that capture the “people, places, things, and history” that makes Northeast Indiana unique. Feel free to reach out: dbeals@wpta21.com.

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