For nearly 150 years, spectators could watch baseball played on the Mall. The earliest semi-professional baseball clubs were formed by federal employees. Long before DC hosted a Major League team, the Senators played by the Capitol and the Nationals by the White House. Throughout the 1900s, people who worked on or near the Mall also played baseball there, including Congressional pages, female federal workers during World War I, and employees of local businesses. Today, many softball teams play near the Washington Monument and in West Potomac Park.
Was baseball ever played on the Mall?
Washington’s first baseball team, the Nationals, chose the Ellipse as their home field in 1865. Shortly after the Civil War ended, the Nationals organized a tournament on the Ellipse with two other teams. Fans filled stands constructed specifically for the tournament. In the mid-1800s, teams customarily exchanged ribbons after games. The ribbons pictured here may be from the 1865 tournament or a different game between the Nationals and Athletics. Another important game took place on the Ellipse in 1867, when a Washington African-American team, the Washington Alerts, hosted the Phildelphia Pythians.
Congressional pages working in the House and the Senate each had their own baseball teams who practiced on the Capitol grounds. Congressional pages were high school-aged boys, and eventually girls, who ran messages for Congressmen. Pages played each other and against local high school teams. Senator George Pepper, pictured here, played ball with the Senate’s pages, bought uniforms for the Senate team, and purchased a backstop to protect the Senate building from foul balls hit during practices.
Like the pages, the women playing baseball in this photograph were employees of the federal government. Many of these women moved to Washington during World War I to support the war effort and remained after Armistice Day. Federal departments formed teams representing specific offices. In a tournament held in October 1919, after the World Series, the Premium Receipts office team played the Medical Division.
During World War II, games were played almost every day on the fields in the Ellipse and on the Washington Monument grounds. Teams included government employees but also employees from local restaurants and other small businesses. Some teams, like this one from 1942, wore uniforms, while others played in less formal attire. This baseball team was made up of men who worked in repair garages around the city.
Today more teams play softball than baseball. Three Congressional softball leagues, together with other leagues comprising teams from DC, MD, and VA compete for practice and game fields on the Mall. This map shows six ball fields on the Washington Monument Grounds. Softball teams enter a lottery every year for a slot to play on one of these fields. Each field hosts one game per day, Monday through Friday. The lottery is run by the National Park Service, which maintains the fields at the Washington Monument and in West Potomac Park