Tuesday, March 28, 2017


When Ocracoke was first settled, in the mid-1700s, “cat-ball” or “cat” was a popular outdoor recreation in colonial America. It had evolved from an earlier English and Scottish folk game, “Cat and Dog,” which involved a piece of wood (a “cat”) that was thrown at a target, often a hole in the ground.

Opposing players defended the target by hitting the wood away with a stick (a “dog”). Two holes were used in some versions of this game that resembled cricket. A batter would hit the cat, then run between the holes while the opposing team would try to put the runner out by knocking the cat into the hole before the runner got to it.
In another version, the “cat” was carved from a piece of wood about six inches long and two inches in diameter. Each end was tapered. The cat was placed on the ground, and either struck with a stick or stomped on with a foot. This would “catapult” the stick into the air so it could be hit with a stick. In later versions, a ball was substituted for the piece of wood, and launched from a simple lever mechanism. Still later, a pitcher replaced the mechanical lever.

Other manifestations of “Cat and Dog” evolved into a stick and ball game that eventually evolved into modern baseball.

From A Little Pretty Pocket-Book (1744)
an early English reference to baseball

Because folk games had no official rules, they changed over time and from place to place. No one knows exactly how “cat” was first played on Ocracoke Island. but by the late nineteenth century Ocracoke boys played cat with a homemade ball, typically a core of string covered with old shoe leather. A stick of wood served as a bat. Baseball gloves were almost unheard of.

In most ways “cat,” as played on Ocracoke, was identical to modern baseball, with two teams, four bases (including home plate), a pitcher, a catcher, outfielders, and a batter. As in baseball, a batter would be “out” after three strikes, or if his fly ball was caught in the air. On the other hand, “cat” had no designated boundary lines. If a batter hit the ball, no matter how hard, or in what direction, it was considered in play. Sometimes a batter would just “snick” the ball. (“Snick,” meaning to hit the ball with a glancing blow off the edge of the bat, a term used in cricket, has survived on Ocracoke since the colonial period.) If the ball flew off to one side, or even landed behind the batter, it was still in play. Runners could be tagged out in the conventional manner, but generally the ball was thrown at the runner. If a runner was hit by the ball he was “out.”

Today Ocracoke has a fine new ball field and three stellar teams. Click here to read about the 2017 season opener.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of the Ocracoke Water Tank Caper. This is the link: http://www.villagecraftsmen.com/news032117.htm.

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