The Amish Tradition of Baseball

Old-fashioned, led by communal spirit, and undaunted by anxiety and doubt, Amish tradition is ideal for the “mental game of baseball.”


| July/August 2013



Amish Boys Playing Baseball

One boy ran barefoot across the grass and positioned his shoes as bases. Then several more joined him, and they side-armed a ball around the horn with terrible mechanics but unflinching competence.

Photo By Bob Jagendorf

We all crowded against the right-side windows as our tour bus crept up on the Amish. There were three of them—brothers by the color and cut of their hair—and they sat in descending order on the driving bench of a horse-drawn cart. As they rolled on, some rusty contraption plucked cornstalks out of the ground and fanned them on the cart’s bed.

“Do not take pictures, y’all!” begged our driver and guide, Gail. “They’re huge on the Second Commandment, which means no graven images, no pictures. Please. Every time. No pictures.” We were a baker’s dozen, a couple families and some seniors, and we’d only just begun this three-hour, handicapped-accessible tour of Amish farmsteads.

“These boys don’t need a license to drive that baby,” Gail informed us in his southerly lisp. “Y’all know the buggies, but here’s one for you: Eight percent of the Old Order Amish here are millionaires.” He explained that, nowadays, most supplement farm income by selling furniture and handicrafts to tourists. Some even operate small-scale workshops that fill orders for retailers like K-Mart. They keep overhead low and won’t expand past what’s prudent. “And more people come to see them now than go out to Ellis Island. Ten million a year. Who’d’ve thought?” Gail checked us in the rearview. “The Amish, rivaling the Statue of Liberty.”

I stared at the oldest, inches away. A little flare of mischief danced in his tourist-jaded eyes. Then he faked a lunge, to see if I’d balk, and I did. He laughed as he passed from my window to the one behind.

 

I’d come back to Lancaster County, in the southeast of Pennsylvania, because years ago, when I was driving home from a work trip, I took a detour through Amish country and happened upon something that I’ve thought a lot about since.