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Woodcut from John Newberry's A Little Pretty Pocket-Book (image via It's been an exciting few days for baseball fans here in NYC with the various All-Star events, which culminate in the big game tonight. (Did you see Céspedes in the Home Run Derby last night?!) It's the ninth time that NY has hosted an All-Star game, the last time was in 2008 at the old Yankee Stadium, but only the second time that the Mets have been hosts. The last time the Mets hosted was in 1964, their inaugural season at Shea.

My father and brother are rabid baseball fans (Mets and Yankees, respectively—a house divided). I've always loved watching and attending games, but admittedly have never been very attentive about players, records, and statistics. During the Home Run Derby last night, I got interested in the history of the game and began doing a little research during commercial breaks. Needless to say, I was bombarded by a wealth of information.

Baseball has its roots in English folk games, like stoolball, "tut-ball", and rounders, but there is evidence suggesting that an early version of the game was played in Flanders, France, and even ancient Egypt. The first written reference to baseball appears in a 1744 British children's book, A Pretty Little Pocket-Book by John Newberry (coincidentally, Newberry's book is also considered to be the first in its genre; the Newberry medal is named for him). It presents a woodcut (shown at right) and a little rhyme about the game. The first American reference to the game appears in a 1791 bylaw from the town of Pittsfield, MA that prohibits playing the game near the town's meeting house. The game makes its way into a Jane Austen novelNorthanger Abbeywritten in 1798: " was not very wonderful that Catherine, who had nothing heroic about her, should prefer cricket, base ball, riding on horseback, and running about the country at the age of fourteen, to books—or at least books of information…".

The Base Ball Player's Pocket Companion, published in Boston in 1859, was the first book devoted entirely to the sport. Fewer than ten {cke_protected_1}examples of this first edition are known. In the 17th century there were three versions of baseball played, the Massachusetts game, the New York game, and the Philadelphia game (and so the rivalry begins!), but by the time the pocket companion was published, the New York version had won out. The New York game had foul territory and made players stay on path when rounding the bases; in the Massachusetts version you didn't have to stay on the base path, but could "lead your opponents on a merry chase into the outfields and beyond."

The first color illustration of the game appeared in the 1864 American Boy's Book of Sport and Games, published in New York. Henry Chadwick wrote what is arguably the most important book about the sport in 1860 entitled Beadle's Dime Base-Ball Player. It is a compilation of rules, diagrams, statistics, and stories. This was the first baseball guidebook available to the general public and was published annually until 1881, when Chadwick became editor of the Spalding guide. Chadwick is also credited with inventing the baseball box score.

And that's just skimming the surface! As you can see, though one usually associates baseball collecting with cards, balls, and other memorabilia, there is an exciting book and ephemera market as well. If you're interested in these types of items, check out the inventory of ABAA members who specialize in the area; there are quite a few. Now off to check out the All-Star parade on my lunch break!