Here’s Walt Whitman, in 1886, observing some youths playing the game in Brooklyn:
In our sundown perambulations of late through the outer parts of Brooklyn, we have observed several parties of youngsters playing “base,” a certain game of ball. We wish such sights were more common among us. In the practice of athletic and manly sports, the young men of nearly all our American cities are very deficient—perhaps more so than those of any other country that could be mentioned. Clerks are shut up from early morning till nine or ten o’clock at night—apprentices, after their days’ works, either go to bed or lounge about in places where they benefit neither body nor mind—and all classes seem to act as though there were no commendable objects of pursuit in the world except making money and tenaciously sticking to one’s trade or occupation. Now, as the fault is so generally of this kind, we can do little harm in hinting to people that, after all, there may be no necessity for such a drudge system among men. Let us enjoy life a little. Has God made this beautiful earth—the sun to shine—all the sweet influences of nature to operate and planted in man a wish for their delights—and all for nothing? Let us leave our close rooms and the dust and corruption of stagnant places, and taste some of the good things Providence has scattered around so liberally.
We would that all the young fellows about Brooklyn were daily in the habit of spending an hour or two in some outdoor game or recreation. The body and mind would both be benefitted by it. There would be fewer attenuated forms and shrunken limbs and pallid faces in our streets. The game of ball is glorious—so are leaping, running, and wrestling. To any person having the least knowledge of physiology, it were superfluous to enter into any argument to prove the use and benefit of exercise. We have far too little of it in this country, among the “genteel” classes. Both women and men should be careful to pass no day of their lives without a portion of outdoor exercise.