How They See the Game (Part 2)

added 3/18/2012 by Darrell Pittman

Until 1904, the Houston Buffaloes played in a ballpark in present-day midtown Houston, on the former site of the Texas State Fair. It was situated at the intersection of McGowen Avenue and what was then the foot of Travis Street.

(Part 1 of the article can be found here.)

How They See the Game (Part 2)
by James Hays Quarles

Houston Daily Post, August 9, 1896, Page 5

Last Sunday I had a story telling how the game of baseball is watched by those who stay on the outside of the fence, and now I will speak of those who are inside, those lovers of the game who delight in seeing the exhibition; who are there, rain or shine, and who pay their money for the enjoyment it affords them.

And they are numerous.

The number is increasing every year.

They are not confined to any one class. There are ladies of the highest circles of society, staid business men, men of high and low degree. And the gamin! He is one of the most enthusiastic. There are many of these who earn their way into the park by doing odd jobs, who bet or borrow the small price that it requires to pass them in the gate; or, who “care for the bats” of the two teams so as to get free admission. It is the all-absorbing question, this baseball; it has its admirers in almost every home in the city and in every business house in town. G. W. Hobart expresses it nicely in a short “poem” he had recently in the Baltimore News:

I see gold bugs seethe and storm and scowl,
    And silverites enthuse,
Tho’ all the air is taken up
    By politicians’ views;
Tho’ statements of the nominees
    Now stalk from shore to shore,
Yet, shrill above this din there comes:
    “Hey, Mister, what’s de score?”

Not politicians’ frenzied yells,
    Nor bolters’ wild dismay,
Can keep this exclamation down
    When comes the close of day.
What tho’ with dank humidity
    The earth is shrouded o’er,
Still thro’ the heated air there comes:
    “Hey, Mister, what’s de score?”

Grim war may raise its hideous head
    And mar the sky of peace;
And pestilence and famine come,
    And human woes increase;
Yet high above the despairing groans,
    From souls in sickness sore,
The hurtling winds will bear this cry:
    “Hey, Mister, what’s de score?”

For countless ages yet to roll
    Adown Time’s broad highway,
This cry will ever freight the air
    Until that gloom-wrapped day
When clarion trumpets shall proclaim
    This earth is earth no more --
And then someone will rise to ask:
    “Hey, Gabriel, what’s de score?”

And those who attend the game understand well each single rule of the National Association. They know each play on the diamond, watch its execution by the ball tossers, and a player always knows when he has erred by the expression from the grand stand and the bleachers. A good play is greeted by a round of applause, but an exclamation of disappointment is uttered if a ball is muffed, thrown wild or is allowed to pass through the legs of the fielder.

And they know the capabilities of the players. Often has a fly been hit to the left or center field, or probably to the right, and ere the sphere has started on its downward course the bleachers will cry out, “You’re a dead bird,” knowing full well that the Houston players in the respective gardens are sure to hold the ball. Of course no one is infallible and the best ones err in the execution of an act at times, but the error with the Houston fielders is always the exception and not the rule.

In preparing for the convenience of those who attend the ball games the Houston Baseball association has erected a long grand stand, which extends from the McGowen avenue side of the park in a semicircular form around to the Milam street side, its seating capacity being about 1500. The center of this grand stand is just behind the home plate, and in the rear are private boxes with chairs. Lower down on the front seats comfortable benches have been provided. The players’ bench is at the entrance to the grand stand near the end which is at the gate on the Milam street side. This end of the grand stand is two stories in height and on the second story, overlooking the entire field and getting the full benefit of the afternoon sun, is the press box and the scorer’s desk. This desk is regularly occupied by the Official Scorer John Trentem, who has for years been the autocrat who has scored against the players errors or who has favored them with hits. He is one of the best scorers in the country, the best in Texas, is impartial in every way and exact in all things. With him is the sporting editor of The Post, this paper being the only publication which has representation at every game.

Just beyond the entrance to the park there is a long line of benches on the order and form of circus seats which are called “bleachers.” Where the term originated is not known. The seats are uncovered, and afford an excellent view of the entire field, and every afternoon the same familiar figures can be seen occupying the same seats.

In speaking of those who attend the game, I suppose I should first mention a veteran, the past master in the association of baseball fans, the best authority in the state on the game.

This is no other than Colonel William Ochiltree, known to his friends by the more euphonious cognomen of “Bill.” When the umpire says “Play ball” every afternoon Colonel Bill can be seen somewhere in the park. He has no regular seat, cares for no cushion. He has been seen to sit on the end of the boys’ bleachers, which I forgot to mention are a part of the furniture of the park located on the McGowen avenue side of the park, near the third base. Sitting all alone, the lonely occupant of that structure, he presents an attractive picture of solid comfort. Then again he is comfortably ensconced on the rear end of a soda water wagon, which is at each game, in a lounging position, smoking his ever present long-stemmed pipe. At times he goes to the bleachers with the crowd and now and then he gets fastidious and sits in the grand stand. He is the only man who comes to the game who can be comfortable wherever he chances to sit, and he takes more interest in the game than some people do in a large business.

Another fan is George Brown. George goes in for solid comfort. He is corpulent, as every one knows, and his heavy red mustache attracts the heat, so when he goes to the game he “shucks himself,” as the term goes. Divested of coat and waistcoat, his suspenders thrown from his shoulders, he can be found at every game occupying a seat within three seats of the top of the bleachers, at the end near the entrance gate. Here he is heard all through the game, and the sonorous tones of his voice join with the deep bass of Colonel Ochiltree in loud remarks about the various plays on the diamond. He sometimes has a word to say about the umpire.

Ticket Agent George Hunter of the International and Great Northern Railway is another. He is a quiet attendant, has little to say, but is always provided with a score card and sits in the center of the grand stand, just behind the plate, where he can watch the balls and strikes, and finds out whether the umpire knows his business. George is a good judge of the curves. He is not very demonstrative, but he watches and thinks a lot, and when the game is over he can recall every play that was made.

City Engineer Louis Gueringer is another enthusiast. He sits on the bleachers right where he can see it all. He is within a few feet of first base, can hear the coaching and the repartee between the players of the opposing teams. And he can hear Shaffer kick. That is one of the features of the game. Shaffer’s kicks are not always loud enough for every one to hear, but the bleachers get the full benefit.

Deputy Chief of Police James Pruett is a regular attendant. The rules of the association say that the home team must furnish police protection at the grounds, and as Deputy Pruett is a director of the association he goes out, combining business with pleasure. There is probably no attendant at the game who enjoys it more than does this same Pruett. He watches closely everything, and when a good play is made his loud laugh of approval can be heard above the applause of every one. He sits in the second story of the grand stand, near the scorer’s desk. He takes off his hat, coat and vest, and mounted on the back of a bench he view the field. At times he moves his 200 pounds of humanity to the roof of the one-story grand stand, which is a convenient seat when he is in the second story. He “hollers” louder than the kids.

E. Bergman and Fred Koebig have the two seats on the first row just back the home plate reserved. They enjoy other things besides Children’s Day, and every afternoon can be seen in their accustomed place watching the game.

Will Richards is a well-known traveling man, who goes to the park when he is in the city. He has always got an umbrella and a good strong voice shouting too much for the home team. He is a Houston rooter right.

Mr. Henry S. Willett sits in the far end of the grand stand, generally by himself, and quietly watches the sport as it proceeds. He knows a good game of ball when he sees it, and it is thorough enjoyment to him.

Judge E. P. Hill occupies the same seat every day. He has reserved for himself one of the chairs in the boxes at the rear and enjoys the different plays on the diamond. So it will be seen that not only are the boys interested, but the dignified gentleman finds pleasure watching the contest of bat and ball.

Editor R. P. Toole of The Post -- I don’t know that I ought to speak of one of my fellow-workers, but I will take the same advantage of him that I have of the others, and not let him know it. Ordinarily he is occupied all day in the editorial rooms, searching in the exchanges and writing for the daily issues of the paper, but some how or other when there is a ball game he finishes his work earlier and is always found in the grand stand, sitting near the stairway. And he is not alone. Often he has as a companion the managing editor of the great daily, who enjoys the game, and who as one of the directors of the Houston association has helped shape the destinies of the Houston club.

Official Scorer John Trentem is always at his post. Rain or shine he goes to the desk to score the play, and although he loves the game, knows it thoroughly and has made it a study, he is not one of the rooters. Johnnie never has a word to say. He is quiet in all things, but he does a terrible lot of thinking.

Colonel Hampton Cook, the Galveston News representative in the city, is vice president of the Rooters’ association. In that capacity he goes out to the game, and can be seen standing around the box office with Treasurer Taub, that same bundle of papers he has carried under his arm for many years, being a part of his wardrobe. He stays near the box office, because if there is anything in the world that attracts Colonel Hampton it is finances. He also carries with him a small printed slip, and after the game he fills in the blanks and files it for the News at the telegraph office. The slip reads like this:

To the News, Galveston:

Houston, Texas, _________ __, ____. There was a good game of ball this afternoon between _______ and ________, the sport being very interesting. ________ won by a score of ___ to ___.

So much for the male attendants at the game. The ladies are not forgotten. There are a number of the fairer sex who go as often as the game is played. One of these, a married lady, attends each game. She sits just behind the players’ bench, where she can hear what they have to say about the play, and at the same time is afforded a view of the field. She was one of the voters in the recent [popularity] contest, dividing her cottons between between Cote, Becker and Slagle. Two little Brownies, made of blue cloth to represent the Houston uniform, were made by her and presented to Charley Becker.

The “mascot” is another regular attendant. This young lady is one of the greatest enthusiasts of the entire number of patrons of the game. She took a great interest in the voting contest, and it was the votes she cast for Slagle that won for him the golden timepiece he now has. When Houston loses it affects her very much, but when the Buffaloes chance to be victorious, her heart is glad. There are a number of other ladies who attend, but none so enthusiastic as these two. They have been selected from the entire number who are ever present, because they take more interest in Houston’s success.

The boys with cushions and the score card vendor, Slim, are interesting sights. “You can not know who hit that ball unless you have a score card,” says Slim. “Get cushions, sit comfortable, enjoy the game,” says the boy with the soft seats. “It only costs a rusty nickel to get a score card,” echoes Slim. And so it goes. The grand stand and the bleachers are interesting places. One can study human nature well, and there are a variety of men who congregate in those two places. There is no diversion that one enjoys more than a ball game, if they enjoy it at all.

And the comments after it is over. Every one has a different idea, and standing at the exit as they pass out you can hear the most animated discussions of the game just finished, surpassing in interest a debate on the financial question.

Houston’s baseball patronage is as good as can be seen in any city of its size in the country.

James Hays Quarles