Gambling, Vaught writes, "was as much a part of baseball as pitching, hitting and running."
Vaught says today's fans might have a hard time even recognizing baseball as it was played back then.
There were few rules and for years, the batter could stand and hit the ball in any direction he wished, even behind him. No balls and strikes were called, and the game itself was usually called "Town Ball," not baseball.
Equipment was all hand-made and balls consisted of whatever could be molded into a round shape. Tree limbs or saw lumber were used for bats.
"It really wasn't until the 1880s or so that the game evolved into something resembling modern-day baseball," Vaught adds.
The game thrived in various regions of the country, always because of its rural settings. In California, baseball was played during the Gold Rush days at the mining camps. In Minnesota and other states, the railroad was instrumental in the game's development because the train would stop every 8-10 miles between towns so farmers would have a way to transport crops, and the farmers from area towns would face off against each other in a ballgame while dealing their farm goods.
The game especially thrived in
, where cotton farmers would meet on Sundays in a pasture and play before dozens, if not hundreds, of local town folk. Teams such as the La Grange Boll Weevils, the Saxons of
, the Round Top Scrubs, the Carmine Stars and numerous others were comprised of cotton farmers out to have a good time and make a few dollars while doing so.
Players and fans consisted primarily of German and Czech immigrants who had come to
many years earlier and they quickly became attracted to the game, as Vaught explains, because "picking cotton and playing baseball required fine hand-to-eye coordination and persistence, and Texas Germans excelled at both."
Two players who truly personified the idea of baseball being a rural game were Hall of Fame pitchers
. Both grew up on farms – Feller in tiny
Van Meter, Iowa
and Perry in
– and both approached the game with a "country" hardball attitude and fierce sense of competition.
"They were great examples of how baseball players developed in rural America," Vaught says. "Feller said often that growing up on a farm gave him the perfect skills and work ethic to be a good baseball player.