Q:  Perusing an ad for vintage baseball T-shirts, I came across one for the long-gone Ballinger Cats, which reminded me that my birthplace, Robert Lee, also once had a team, the Rabbit Twisters. Is baseball in rural Texas still a “thing”?

Dr. Ken Davis, Conroe

A: Many folks will be surprised to learn that Texas, a place crazy about football, was once crazy about baseball. Seemingly every town, no matter how small, fielded a team in one league or another, from amateur to semipro to professional ball—especially during the golden age of the early to mid-twentieth century. 

The Rabbit Twisters—one of the great team names in a sport full of great team names—played in the amateur Concho Basin league alongside such rivals as the Big Lake-Texon Snipers, the Goodfellow Skyhawks, and the Lowake Playboys. And that short list barely scratches the surface. The colorful roll call of squads that distinguished the Texas baseball scene of yesteryear included, among many, many others, the Amarillo Gassers, the Galveston Black Sandcrabs, the King Ranch Cowboys, the Lufkin Lumbermen, the Victoria Rosebuds, the Waco Black Navigators, and the Wichita Falls Spudders. 

But is the sport a big deal in rural Texas in 2024? In a word, no. These days, out in our hinterlands, one would be hard-pressed to find much more than a run-down batting cage or some beer-league softball. That decline, as in the rest of the country, was caused partly by the arrival, in the fifties, of nationally televised Major League Baseball games. Why take in mediocre baseball from hard bleachers in the sweltering summer sun when you could, from the comfort of your own easy chair, watch Dallas’s Ernie Banks knock one out of Wrigley Field? Then, too, football was rising in popularity and overtook baseball as the nation’s favored sport in the mid-sixties. By then, none of the baseball teams listed above was still around.

There are, though, still a few diamonds to be found out in the roughs of rural Texas. The independent Pecos League has franchises in the West Texas outposts of Alpine (the Cowboys) and Pecos (the Bills). The Cleburne Railroaders have played in the independent American Association of Professional Baseball since 2017. And this summer a development-level entity, the Mid-America League, will debut with four teams based within our borders: the Abilene Flying Bison, the Sherman Shadowcats, a yet-to-be-named Texarkana franchise, and the Timberhogs from tiny White Oak.

So while there’s not much joy in Mudville (a baseball-deficient locale about ten miles west of Bryan), even in this day and age the mighty Casey of poetic legend might still manage to find a far-flung field of dreams in some little Texas town. And there he could step up to the plate, raise our collective hopes, and—well, you know how that story ends, Dr. Davis.  

Have a question for the Texanist? He’s always available . Be sure to tell him where you’re from. 

This article originally appeared in the April 2024 issue of Texas Monthly. Subscribe today.