" A book intended for children, A Pretty Little Pocket Book, mentions a game for children in which they struck a ball and ran around bases."
Nancy, that is the very same 1751 book by Newbery, with respect to which I posted the URL for the page image that pertains to Base-ball!
I was just looking at it again, and I see that they did not use bases then, but instead used posts, which were about waist high. And what is cool is that both "base" AND "post" have more or less the same meaning in nautical terms, in the sense of a sailor being "based" or "posted" at a particular port during a long, multi-phase sea voyage.
And it makes sense that a boy's game would have a nautical terminology, because I imagine that if you asked the average English country boy what he wanted to be when he grew up, many of them would surely say "sailor", and so playing base-ball for them would have resonated with the idea of taking part in imaginary sea voyages, and so of course nautical terminology would enhance that fantasy aspect.
But I do now believe that JA's mentioning Catherine playing baseball was not solely to show that she had been a tomboy. I also think that baseball does work as a metaphor for Catherine's experience over the course of the entire novel. Although she never goes to sea, Catherine does feel that in leaving her home for the first time, she has not only embarked on a grand "voyage" into life, she has also stepped up to the plate and made her first appearance in the grand game of courtship.
And she somehow, improbably, manages to hit a "home run"----where she begins at home in Fullerton, then goes to first base (Bath), thence to second base (Northanger Abbey), then third base (Fullerton), and finally and climactically home, which of course is Woodston, which will thenceforth indeed be her new home, where she will presumably be "safe", despite General Tilney's having literally "thrown her out" !
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