The Founding of Jeffersontown’s Earliest Baseball Team
Writer / Beth Wilder, Director
Jeffersontown Historical Museum
The population of Jeffersontown was about 350 in 1910. Local residents had a variety of jobs, and farming kept most of them busy – in addition to their normal occupations. They did not have the conveniences we now take for granted — electricity did not even come to Jeffersontown until 1912 — so a great deal of time and energy went into earning a living, growing food for the family and making sure that time-consuming but mundane tasks such as doing the laundry and other household chores were completed.
Once the tasks of daily living were accomplished, people had a bit of time for relaxation. Since radio and television had not yet been invented, people had to find some way to keep themselves entertained, and for early Jeffersontown residents, one way that goal was achieved was by enjoying baseball games.
Baseball had been played – officially – in Jefferson County since July 19, 1865, when the Louisville Grays hosted the first baseball game played under standard rules west of the Alleghenies. Several Major League teams were established, but local residents wanted to be able to attend games closer to home and to take part in those games. So, practically every small town in Jefferson County organized its own ball team, and they played each other.
Nothing is recorded about Jeffersontown’s baseball team until a May 26, 1910 Jeffersonian newspaper article mentions what appears to be the first actual game played by an organized Jeffersontown team. Here are some excerpts from that article:
“Sunday, May 22, Jeffersontown played its initial game, having for an opponent the Evergreens. The game was played on a muddy field and it was impossible for the boys to make a good showing, although they put up a good fight, regardless of their never having played together before. The final score was 12 to 6 in favor of the Evergreens. We should all be justly proud of our team and give it support, and the way fans turned out to see Sunday’s game it looks like we are going to do this, as there was at least 30 who drove from Jeffersontown to see the game.”
After that, ballgames were played weekly throughout the summer. Realtor E.R. Sprowl promised the team could play on the recently-opened ball field of what was soon to become the new Jeffersontown School in the Jefferson Heights subdivision, to the left of where Tully Elementary now stands. There was “plenty of shade and soft drinks of all kinds,” and everyone was encouraged to come out and root for the home team.
The Jeffersontown Nine played a variety of other teams, including the Evergreens, Hikes Point, Louisville Southeastern, Bauer’s, the Grommers, City Limits Stars, Bartman Athletes, Modern Woodmen, Tucker’s, Swamp College Lads and Louisville Manual, to name just a few. They even played the Married Men of the town on several very entertaining occasions.
In 1911, the “Trolley League,” composed of Shelbyville, La Grange, Jeffersontown, Simpsonville, Lakeland, Ochsners, and Louisville Athletics, was a huge success with fans. Although the editors of the Jeffersonian newspaper were obviously biased, they noted that Jeffersontown was made up of some of the best players in the league, and that nothing “advertises the town like a good ball team.”
The results of “the famous Trolley League” were published in all the city papers and watched with interest by a large number of people. Businesses chipped in to pay the travel expenses of visiting teams, and enough seats were erected at the ball field to accommodate about two hundred people – not a small number, given the actual population of the town at the time.
In 1912, the Jeffersontown Baseball Club became known officially as “Fanelli Brothers” after Frank Fanelli, owner of one of Jeffersontown’s leading stores, paid “something like $50” to have uniforms made for the entire team. At the time, Barto Roemele was manager of the team, which also consisted of Walter Jones, Walter Harris, Edwin Davis, Ben Stivers, John Finn and John Baker, among others. The team closed its season in October that year with 11 wins out of 18 games.
Jeffersontown was obviously very enthusiastic about its ball team and continued to have a men’s baseball league under different sponsorships for the next several decades. For quite some time, the men’s league played on the old Jeffersontown School Grounds at College Drive and Maple Road (where Tully Elementary School now stands), sharing the field with students of the school. Eventually the men’s league gave way to Little League, with dedicated ball fields established along Ruckriegel Drive (behind the Jeffersontown Community Center) and at Skyview Park, which had originally been founded by James Wilson in the 1940s as a place for black people to play. In 1996, construction was completed on a $1.8 million baseball field at Skyview Park to support the Jeffersontown Little League.
The City of Jeffersontown maintains its interest in local sports, with Skyview Park serving as home to Jeffersontown youth baseball and softball leagues. It has served as host to the Little League World Series for senior league girls’ softball, Kentucky High School Athletic Association Fast Pitch Softball State Tournament, and various little league district and regional tournaments. Jeffersontown invites everyone to “get in the game” and play ball!