Morris shows graves of some of Atlanta, Georgia's
earliest baseball players at Oakland Cemetery, on
March 21, 2013. Robert Dohme was shortstop and team
captain on Atlanta's earliest baseball team.
— The city is in ruins — buildings toppled by cannon
fire, chimneys tottering amid the rubble, train tracks
torched and twisted by an army burning its way to the sea.
In the spring of 1866, Atlanta bears the bruises of the
Civil War. It is a hellish time.
yet, on the morning of May 12, people emerge from their
battered homes. Those who have horses saddle them for a
short trip to the eastern edge of downtown; families ready
carriages, too. Pedestrians head toward a diamond-shaped
tract where 18 Atlantans have promised to put on a show.
p.m., the site is filled with hundreds, perhaps thousands
of people eager for entertainment. A bartender — the
most honest guy in town, everyone agrees — takes a seat
in a big wooden chair close to the action.
ball!" he yells.
begins Atlanta’s first baseball game. The match lasts 4
1/2 hours. The final score is … But we are getting ahead
the opening of baseball season, Oakland Cemetery is
hosting a baseball-themed tour of its grounds, where seven
of those long-ago baseball players are buried. They
include a doctor, a fireman and a guy who earned the
dubious distinction of suffering Atlanta’s first
baseball injury: He took a line drive where it hurts the
who have a connection to the grand game also will be
featured in the tours, which began March 23 and will be
conducted periodically through the warm months. Also on
the tour is famed golfer Bobby Jones, who played baseball
before he ever picked up a club, and Christian Kontz,
reputed to be the first Atlantan to brew beer. Beer, of
course, is synonymous with this noble pastime. Saloon
owner Sam Downs, whose stone stands in Oakland, was that
tours pay homage to those stalwarts who brought baseball
to Atlanta at a time when the town needed a reason to
cheer, said Alan Morris, a volunteer at the cemetery.
city was a mess," he said. "Clearly, the
citizenry needed something to celebrate. It was really a
big that historian Franklin Garrett included an account of
the game in "Atlanta and Environs," his
authoritative history of the city’s early years. He
credited merchant Tom Burnett with bringing the game to
town when he formed the Atlanta Baseball Club. Burnett
outfitted the team with white caps and jerseys and black
pants. After a few weeks of practice, Burnett proclaimed
his club "the finest team in the world." Enter
the Gate City Nine, clad in orange shirts, sky-blue pants
and black caps. The team, whose name came from an early
Atlanta nickname, offered to play the Atlanta club in
mid-May. In the days leading up to the game, "little
else was discussed" in Atlanta, Garrett wrote.
game was played just west of the cemetery, not far from
where Georgia State University’s football team now
practices. One of the Upton brothers could probably throw
a ball from Oakland’s wrought-iron gate to the old
Morris, a retired state rehabilitation counselor, learned
about the 1866 game, he was hooked. He proposed the
baseball-themed tour to the Historic Oakland Foundation,
which oversees the burial ground. To borrow a metaphor,
the foundation, which hosts 14 tours already, told him to
did, recruiting another volunteer to help him lead the
tours. Each wears an orange shirt that proclaims
"Gate City Nine." Yes, the Gate City squad.
That, dear reader, brings us to the end of this tale.
final score: Gate City 127, Atlanta Baseball 29 — a
whooping so thorough that the Atlanta Baseball Club
disbanded. Gate City went on to win more than 30 games
before running into an energetic bunch of youngsters from
Athens who handed them their first defeat.
BOYS OF SUMMER BASEBALL TOUR
a.m. July 4-6; 10:30 a.m. Aug. 30-Sept. 1.
adults; $5 children and seniors.
Cemetery, 248 Oakland Ave., Atlanta.