It was in the Spring of 1865 that the Empire Club having successfully demonstrated that it was cock of the home walk became seized with a desire to spread its wings and let the outside world know how good a game it could put up, and in looking around for “foxmen worthy of their steel” the club managers came into correspondence with the Empire Club of Freeport, Ill., which eventuated in a match being made for the approaching Fourth of July at Freeport. As this was an event of no ordinary magnitude, the club went into extra training, more particularly as the opposing club sustained a fine reputation and July 2 the selected players to the number of twelve accompanied by about an equal number on non-playing members started on their journey of conquest. They arrived at their destination the next evening (having been delayed through a mis-connection of trains at Pana, Ill.) with four players quite ill from the effects of the water drunk on the cars. After supper Capt. Fruin gave strict orders for the players to remain in the hotel and a physician was called in for the sick ones. Through strict obedience to orders at noon on the Fourth the players were all in good physical condition. This game of ball had been extensively advertised through the press and the leading citizens, headed by Col. Schaefer, chief of Gen’l Ben Butler’s staff, exerted themselves to entertain their visitors, a grand complimentary dinner at the Busby House being among the many courtesies arranged. In fact, the ball game was the feature of that Fourth of July, not alone for Freeport, but for the entire surrounding country and visitors had flocked into the town to the number of several thousand from Iowa as well as Illinois.
Among the invited guests who participated in the banquet were B.M. Harges, J. Wear, G.L. Turner, C.W. Wear, J. Ballord, G.L. Bickinson, W.R. Clark and N.A. Millis of the Julian Club of Dubuque; L. Hoyt, W. Scudder, E. Clark, E. Hill, and J. Hill of the Garden City Club; J.E. Haller and C. Osborne of the Eagle, La Porte, Indiana Club and several representatives of the Rockford, Ill., Club which was then beginning its afterward famous record. Speeches were made by Col. T.J. Turner, R. Sitter, Esq., and J.R. Scruggs, editor of the Freeport Bulletin, which were replied to in bulk by Jerry Fruin, he being the only one of the St. Louis Club orators present.
After being seated at the dinner table it was soon apparent that wine would flow pretty freely and at sight of the first bottle, Fruin passed the order that no player should partake of it, promising that after the game they could have all they wanted. This order was obeyed strictly, not a man wishing to hazard his share of the honors and glory of playing in this the first fly ball match west of the Alleghenies, for such this proved to be. No definite arrangements were made as to whether it would be “a bound or a fly” game until the two club captains faced one another on the diamond when in reply to the question as to what it should be, Fruin promptly responded: “Just as you please” and the answer came promptly: “Fly it is.” It afterward developed that the Freeport captain thought he had gained quite an advantage by thus choosing, as the “fly” game was still quite a novelty, and though some of the St. Louis boys felt a little weak over the chances of winning, Fruin had not the least misgiving, as he knew full well that his men “just doted” on fly balls when they came along.
Mr. S. Hoyt, of the Garden City Club, umpired the game and learned more that day than he had picked up in all his previous experience. The possibility of putting out three men at once was there demonstrated by the St. Louis team, though the umpire gave the credit for two outs only after having the triple play explained to him thoroughly, his original decision having been one out! It was the first occasion when the St. Louis team had been called upon to face a crowd of nearly seven thousand strangers, whose sympathies were naturally with their opponents, and the victory, achieved by a score of 27 to 20 was a most creditable one, adding much to the club’s prestige...
The victors made two aces (home runs) as they were then denominated. This game not only added fresh laurels in the Empire Club, but it gave a local impetus to the game that was lasting in its effects and from that time forward, the club became the target for numerous challenges as well as the increased envy of its main home rival, the Union Club.
-E.H. Tobias, The Sporting News, November 4, 1895
The evolution of baseball from the bound game (where a ball caught on the bound was an out) to the fly game (where you had to catch the ball before it hit the ground) was a very important step in the history of the game. This evolution helped distinguish the game from local baseball variants, which were still being played in 1865, and it also made the game more "manly." The fly game was more difficult to play than the bound game and by raising the difficulty level as well as the level of skill needed to play the game, the baseball fraternity was attempting to remove any sort of stigma that was attached to adults playing what was seen as a children's game. They were creating a game that only adults could play well.
The Empire/Freeport match in July of 1865 marks an important milestone in the history of the game, as it shows that the evolutionary changes that baseball experienced during this era were a national phenomenon. The debate over the fly rule was something that had been going on for a decade and its acceptance marked a step forward towards the modern game. In the Freeport match, we see two of the best clubs in the West adopting it for use in what was a very big game. That probably says something about how the top clubs felt about the fly rule and it probably had some effect on the acceptance of the rule, generally, in the West.