OLD HICKORY, Va. — The national pastime may no longer be our country’s most popular sport, but baseball can still draw a crowd. And in one part of Virginia, that crowd has gathered for the last 135 years.
Near the Dinwiddie-Sussex County line, you’ll find farmland that locals say was the setting for a significant event back in May 1888.
“The first documented game of baseball [in Virginia] was played right here in Old Hickory,” Chris Everett, whose family owns the land, said. “This is sacred ground; this is where it all started.”
The name of this community was derived from a towering timber that once cast a shadow over that first ball field.
“Everybody would assemble and congregate under that tree for shade and share stories and watch good old-fashioned baseball,” said Everett.
Gear and equipment were hard to find.
“The very first game, I can imagine, most of those players didn’t have shoes on,” Everett said. “Probably a twig off the hickory tree as their bats and most of them did not play with a glove, they used their bare hands.”
The birthplace of the Old Hickory Ball Club, which would become one of the best in the South.
Both Chris and his brother, Randy, have deep roots here.
“A lot of stories when I was growing up,” Randy Everett said. “My great-great-grandfather was there the first day playing what was a new game.”
Now they’re speaking out to keep the team and this place from becoming a piece of forgotten history.
That starts with keeping those traditions alive for the next generation.
“I think it’s really cool that baseball kind of started right here and I get to kind of grow up in it,” Randy’s son Jake Everett said.
Betty Cooke Harrison also grew up in it.
Cooke Harrison. 75, recalls watching her father – Monk Rideout – play for Old Hickory.
“He was good, people told us he was good, and I could see for myself,” said Cooke Harrison. “That was my special time with my dad.”
And it made her a lifelong fan of the game.
“Us kids would get together and play, go up to Holloway’s store and play on the ball field on our off days,” Cooke Harrison said.
Clint Holloway still owns that country store, which his dad built in the 1940s.
The diamond that used to sit out back is gone now. But in the middle part of the 20th Century, it was the place the Old Hickory team called home.
“I remember the Fourth of July celebrations, they’d always have a doubleheader,” said Holloway. “The yards were full, the cars were here lined up on both sides of the road, it was just the place to be.”
Marshall Owen recalls spending many a Saturday and Sunday there.
“The stands would be packed,” said Owen. “It was something that brought the community together.”
Holloway’s store now serves as a sort of shrine for the Old Hickory legacy, and a gathering place for living legends.
“It really brings back a lot of nostalgia,” David Poole, who grew up about a mile from the store, said. “We would work on the farm Saturday morning and close up shop and drive up here to Old Hickory to see the baseball game Saturday afternoon.”
Poole became a good enough ballplayer to make the team when he was in high school, playing alongside 30-year-old men.
Now 98, he can still remember playing in an old-timers’ game.
That was in 1972.
“Yeah, that’s a great, great memory,” Poole said.
The team stopped playing baseball in the early 70s, then made a comeback as an adult softball club that also achieved great success. But it would disband shortly after Old Hickory’s 100th-anniversary celebration in 1988.
A few years ago, the Everett brothers decided to put on their rally caps and get the next generation on deck.
They brought back the Old Hickory name, creating a new boys’ travel team. And the brothers learned how to coach softball, so they could pass on their love of the game to their daughters as well.
“It’s really been inspirational to watch them grow and be competitive,” said Randy Everett. “The Southside Fury girls’ teams, we’ve won World Series championships, and the boys have won Commonwealth Game championships, so they just bought into the system, wanting to get better and do things the right way.”
“And those are just things that we’ve been taught from our parents and grandparents and the members of this community.”
A community that, for well over a century, has worked the farm during the week, so that weekends could be spent at the ballpark.
“We’ve been blessed to play this game,” said Randy Everett.
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