history of the eclipse
The year was 1866 and the War Between the States had just recently been completed and everyone was coming back home from the battlefield. This scene was repeated in every large city and every small town across eastern America and it was no different in Elkton, Maryland. Men from Cecil County fought on both sides of the conflict and stood side by side with fellow soldiers from New York, Philadelphia, Boston and other metropolitan areas. Being so close to Wilmington and Philadelphia and being a large port city at the time, Elkton had a lot more in common with these areas than other parts of Maryland's Eastern Shore such as Easton, Betterton, and Wicomico County.
In the spring of 1866, 40 men from Elkton who had some leisure time available to them started an athletic and social club called the Elkton Base Ball Club. Many of these men were Civil War veterans who learned the new sport of base ball which was being played in New York and New England by their fellow soldiers. They would play this new game on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays at five o'clock. A field was "...generously granted the Club...north of the railroad..." by W.P. Howard until something was more permanently established. This Club would last 4 months until a new organization called the Eclipse Base Ball Club of Elkton was formed in November. The President was Charles W. Maxwell, Harry Wells was the Vice President, Evans Taylor the secretary, and Richard McFarland was named the treasurer.
The first inter club base ball match in Elkton took place on July 17, 1866 in searing heat. A large, curious crowd was in attendance for the match between Elkton and the visiting St George's Base Ball Club of Delaware. The game was so new that the local paper had to not only provide game details, but rules explaining the sport. The match took over six hours to complete and the home town club won 62-37. After the match, Elkton treated the St Georges' club to dinner at the Howard House.
Base ball clubs sprouted up all over Cecil County and the surrounding region; a full year before the rest of Maryland caught up in the craze. It was so popular that the local championship for 1866 wasn't played until Thanksgiving Day where the Cecil Club of Chesapeake City defeated the Olympic Club of Middletown, DE 38-9. The match was very spirited and included a brilliant array of ladies to witness the game. Other clubs that played that year included the Rising Sun Club, the Bohemia Club and the Eureka Club of West Nottingham.
Base ball was well underway in Cecil County before most of the state of Maryland. It wasn't until the summer of 1867 that sales reps from the Baltimore Sports Emporium took the game of baseball to every small town on the Eastern Shore and the rest of the state so that these towns would embrace the game and buy their sporting goods. Before long, every town had a club. See Marty Payne's article to see how base ball exploded in Maryland. (Special thanks to the late Chuck DeSocio for his research on Cecil County's history of baseball).
The Modern Eclipse
The current Eclipse Base Ball Club of Elkton is set up just as its predecessor was in 1866. It is a social and athletic club whose goal is to promote camaraderie and exercise while also showing the public how base ball was played in the 19th century and what a sporting event was like in the 1860s in Cecil County.
The club practices and plays most of its home matches at Terrapin Station Winery in Elkton. While it is not where the original Eclipse played, it is indicative of what the grounds would have looked like when the original Eclipse took the field.
The club draws members from four states including Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey. They play between 25 and 30 games per year from April until the end of October against other clubs up and down the east coast from Maine to Virginia. Two to three days per month are scheduled as match days against other clubs. There is always room for more players as well as social members who do not wish to participate on the field, but want to be part of the club.
The Modern Uniform
While there are no pictures of the first base ball club in Elkton, we can guess at what they may have looked like. As Marty Payne mentioned in his article about Eastern Shore base ball, the merchants of each town felt as though they had an obligation to make sure that the base ball club had the finest uniforms available because they were representing their town when they would visit other cities and villages. These merchants also wanted a first class look so that tourists would visit and then purchase their products.
The uniforms in 1866 were modeled after fire company uniforms so it can be believed that the Eclipse had the same thing. They have grey long sleeved wool shirts with a blue shield and a gray "E" on the chest, blue pants, a red and blue cap; red socks and belt accessorize the rest of the uniform. The reason for the blue and gray colors is to represent both the United States and the Confederate States during the Civil War. Maryland was a border state and had both northern and southern sympathizers. Cecil County was a microcosm of this as well as citizens fought for both sides during the war. Many Cecil Countians fought along side the Zouave's from New York during the war. This is where many picked up the game of base ball from. To honor the Zouave's and their bright war uniforms and baggy knickers, the Elkton club wore knickers from 2007-2011. They donned red belts and stockings as well as have a red stripe in their hat. In 2012, team decided to change to long pants to more closely match the time period in which they play (1864) as the use of knickers in base ball uniforms were not documented until April 18, 1868 when they were used by the Cincinnati Red Stockings.
Click above see the rules the Eclipse play by. You'll notice that there are some important differences between base ball in 1864 and baseball today.