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Picture of the day - September 18, 2006

Saltville Alkalies Baseball And Catchers Mitt

Artifacts from the Saltville Alkalies semi-pro baseball team.
Click photo to enlarge

For the first half of the 20th century, the game of baseball truly was the American pastime. The major leagues were enjoying the golden era of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jackie Robinson, Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson and many other baseball legends. Back then, virtually every little boy in America longed to grow up and play big league ball just like their larger-than-life heroes.

But Yankee Stadium and the other Major League ballparks weren't the only places that one could go to see a great baseball game back then. All across America, virtually every little town and whistlestop had a semi-pro baseball team that played in a league against similar teams from the neighboring towns. And so it was in the Mountain Empire.

Locally, there were several semi-pro teams that played against one another two or three times a season. The players on these teams earned money for playing the game they loved, but it was nowhere near enough to live on. This required most of them to work on a regular job in order to make ends meet. While the vast majority of them never made it to the big leagues, they were still able to enjoy playing a kids game as adults and make a little money in the process.

Back in those days semi-pro baseball games were very popular, and the bleachers were usually quite full of enthusiastic spectators. But in the 1950's, the golden age of baseball began to decline as the golden age of television offered a free alternative for entertainment. One-by-one, many of the small-town teams folded, resulting in the consolidation of the leagues and requiring longer trips for the visiting teams. Longer trips equaled more expense so even more teams had to fold. Unfortunately, by the late 1960's there were only a handful of semi-pro baseball teams left across the country.

A schedule of the Saltville Alkalies home games.One of the last teams to fold was the Saltville Alkalies, an extremely talented and well-backed team from the tiny town of Saltville, Virginia.

Although it was smaller than many of the towns their team played against, Saltville had one of the best teams in the Burley Belt League. In fact, the Alkalies were perennial favorites to take the league championship, and they usually did.

Why were the Alkalies so good? They had the backing of the Olin Mathieson Chemical Corporation. In addition to supplying the financial needs of the team, Olin Mathieson also sponsored a lunch-time baseball program which provided plenty of practice for the Saltville players, and there were plenty of players to choose from because every company in town fielded teams of workers to participate in the lunch-time league!

Thanks to the deep pockets of Saltville's corporate sponsors, the Alkalies were one of the most well-funded teams in the country, and Saltville's fans were loyal to the very end. When they finally folded in 1967, it was because they had run out of competition instead of fan interest and money.

About the photo: Today's picture features one of the many wonderful displays in Saltville, Virginia's Musuem Of The Middle Appalachians.

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