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Rounders and Other Ball Games with Stick and Bats
A common feature of team ball games described so far is that the two opponents strove to reach for identical but opposite goals. An ancient, often involved operation is concealed behind another family of games, which perhaps originally was not even played with a ball. Gyula Hajd sees the origin of round games as follows: "Round games conserve the memory of ancient castle warfare. A member of the besieged garrison sets out for help, slipping through the camp of the enemy. The destruction (overthrow) of the courier to whom the task had been entrusted entails the surrender of the castle (change of positions). The person entrusted with the servant's role (server) is the spy of the enemy who wants to further the overthrow of the besieged garrison."*
We may be of the opinion that these "hitting" ball games, which were universal in the Middle Ages, have disappeared entirely. This is far from true; in the Balkans they are still played by children, and in the USA baseball has become a national game, as cricket in England. In Hungary several variants of rounders exist in the countryside. In the Middle Ages, however, there was hardly a country where it is not certain or highly likely that some version of it was practised. The English head the list: they can pride themselves on the first picture of club-ball (thirteenth century). According to Strutt, cricket, to which we shall return, probably derived from this game. Trap-ball, on account of its start-similar to tip-cat which is known to have existed from the fourteenth century- can be considered a secondary development. American baseball is, in the last resort, a variant of rounders, which survived almost unchanged until the last century.
One of the Dutch games, kaatsspeel probably got its name from the chasse, or sections marked out on the ground in tennis (see page 100). Among the several types of Dutch kopfspeel there is one like rounders, and another has become a game played in couples, and it is in connection with that game that the word golf was first mentioned.
German Schlagball ("hit the ball") is also similar to rounders. The naive claim that these games "have remained the games of the Germanic peoples, and have won no popularity beyond their countries" quite obviously does not accord with facts. It is enough to quote the conclusion of a description of "hit the ball" by H. Guarnoni, who had a medical practice in Innsbruck around 1600: "We enjoyed this game in Prague very much and played it a lot. The cleverest at it were the Poles and the Silesians, so the game obviously comes from there." Incidentally, he was one of the first who also described the way in which the game was played. It was played with a hard leather ball and a club four-foot long. The ball was tossed by the bowler who threw it to the striker, who struck it with a club rounded at the end as far into the field as possible, and attempted to make the circuit of the bases without being hit by the ball. If "one of the opposing players catches the ball in the air, a change of positions follows".
A more exact, although later description of rounders is also available. "Home" base was in one corner of the regular pentagon where the ball was hit and the running started. The "bases" were in the other four corners and formed refuges for the runner, which later gave the name of baseball to the game. The player who threw the ball stood in the centre of the five-cornered court and the player receiving the ball or striker, could refuse it three times. If he hit a catch he did not need to be hit while running, as he had lost a point in any case. If he reached one of the bases safely, he stayed there while the bowler could then throw the ball to the next striker or batsman, but-since he himself belonged to the team that was fielding-he was entitled to try and hit the previous player when he ran to the next base. The game was complicated by the rule that two batsmen could not enjoy the safety of the same base at the same time: one was out, or if one of the fielders hit the post of the home base towards which a striker was running. A number of special rules also existed, for instance that the bowler was allowed to run into the home base if all the players in the other team were still on the way round and the first had not yet returned to the home base.
The hitting of the home base was a special element in this game, and it became the central feature of the most refined of the medieval rounder games-cricket.
* Hajdü, Gyula, "Magyar népi játékok gyüjteménye" [Collection of Hungarian Folk Games]; Budapest, 1971.