It is a game played by old men and young boys, by professionals and amateurs alike, at the dawn of spring and at the coming of winter. On the Vineyard, the game of baseball has been played by farmers, sailors, fishermen and businessmen, in Menemsha meadows and makeshift diamonds at Waban Park in Oak Bluffs, Toomey Field in Chilmark and Veterans Park in Tisbury.

And although the game in the summer months is as common as tourists in flip-flops, its origins here are as elusive as they are fascinating. The first mention of the game in the Gazette archives is of the exploits of Captain Hartson H. Bodfish of Vineyard Haven in the year 1895. Captain Bodfish was well-known to have a stiff forefinger, noticeable when he tried to perform certain tasks, which many mistakenly attributed to chasing whales or fighting sea monsters.

But when asked, the captain would happily tell the reason for the protruding digit, explaining that he “got that ouching on a red-hot fly while warming up for a game of baseball.”

But the remarkable part of the story is not how the captain was injured, but where it occurred. In an interview with the Gazette, the captain explained that it was common for his crew, as well as other Arctic whalers, to play games on the ice when in winter quarters. It was recognized as being beneficial to all hands to exercise in some way, aside from routine work about the ship.

“So they played baseball, among other things,” the captain said, “carrying bats, balls and other equipment onto the Arctic Ocean with their gloves, mitts and similar manufactured articles that had to be provided in quantity.”

The article goes on to explain that a sort of Arctic League was formed when “two or more ships were frozen in, close together, allowing for real, actual competition between rival crews.” The league held a sort of winter season in 1895, when 15 ships, carrying approximately 600 men, congregated at Herschel Island, an island in the Beaufort Sea (part of the Arctic Ocean), about three miles off the coast.

It was the largest fleet ever to winter there, before or since, and the men quickly formed a baseball league and went about fielding the best players. The actual captain’s log from Captain Bodfish tells the tale of this baseball tourney in great detail.

“Captains, mates, harpooners and cooks mates, if there were any, played, if they happened to be the best players . . . it was the game that was desired, and nothing else mattered,” Captain Hartson wrote.

So on Feb. 21, four teams — the Arctics, Dewdrops, Nonpareils and Herschells — took to the ice to play in the first double-header of the season. “And there on a broad sand-spit chosen because the wind usually blew the snow clear, they played two full games with temperatures standing at fourteen below zero,” the captain wrote.

Captain Hartson writes there were no bleachers for the fans, so sailors and Eskimos alike turned out to watch, and after every game played by the sailors the Inuit men would have a game of their own. The weather conditions recorded in the captain’s logs were savage, ranging from 24 degrees Fahrenheit below zero in February to a high of 38 degrees in April.

The season pennant, a white drill flag tasselled and embroidered by the sailors, bore the words: “Herschel Island Baseball League, Season of ‘95,” according to the captain. The championship was won by the Dewdrops, who won 26 games, compared to the Arctic team’s 19. The captain says in his log that 1895 proved to be a high point for the league, for in June, after the pennant series had finished, the ice broke up and “the ships refitted, and put out to sea as the serious business of whaling was resumed.”

“Thus the league was disbanded, never again to assemble on the Herschel Island sand spit. For when winter came again, both men and ships were missing.”

While the Arctic League disbanded after its only season, similar efforts to form a sustainable national baseball league were also having problems finding their footing. The National League was formed in 1876, although a number of rival leagues came and went, including the American Association, sometimes called the “beery and whiskey league” for its tolerance of the sale of alcoholic beverages to spectators.

But on the Vineyard, an upstart baseball league made up of town teams and players was flourishing. The league is believed to have started in the early 1900s, although reports differ whether the teams were made up of professionals, Islanders or a combination of both.

In his book, A History of Martha’s Vineyard, author and historian Arthur Railton says the teams were semiprofessional, “being made up of college players who had been hired as waiters by the hotels, more for their athletic skills than for their serving skills.”

Aware of the promotional value of the sport, the hotels formed a Cape and Island league of teams bearing their names. One of the best players was Walter C. Camp of Yale University, the captain of the Cottage City team, who ironically would later gain fame for shaping the future of another game, football. Mr. Camp is often called the “father of American football,” and was a dominant voice on various collegiate rules committees.

But according to Mr. Railton, Mr. Camp was also a force on the baseball diamond, and turned down an offer of $200 a month to umpire league games, choosing instead to play for the Cottage City team. Mr. Camp was hired by Samuel Winslow to captain one of two roller-skating hockey teams on the Island, that drew hundreds of spectators each week to Mr. Winslow’s skating rink.

Although the Vineyard baseball league was popular and competitive through the early 20th century, there is a surprising lack of information about the league around the Island. There is no information in the Martha’s Vineyard Museum about the old league, and the only written record of its existence is a series of box scores that appear in the Gazette archives.

The Gazette did not have a regular sports section in the early 1900s, and the baseball coverage appeared frequently but erratically. A collection of box scores from the summer of 1934 describes what appears to be several different leagues. There were individual town leagues, like the Tisbury and Edgartown Twilight Leagues, made up of Island players sponsored by local businesses, and also the Cape and Islands League, made up of a mix of semiprofessionals and local talent.

The Vineyard team that played against other Cape and Islands teams was apparently made up of the best players from the individual town leagues.

One box score of an Edgartown Twilight League game details a game played between Connors Market and the “Edgartown Drug boys,” as well as a game between Edgartown Drug and Westinghouse Electric, where the “fighting refrigerator salesmen” from Westinghouse Electric scored five runs against Edgartown starter Red Grant.

Another box score of the Cape and Islands league tells of a game between the Firestone Rubber Co. of New Bedford and the Oak Bluffs town team. New Bedford prevailed over the Oak Bluffs nine by a final score of 6-3 in that game, as players with familiar Vineyard surnames like Combra, Pacheco, and Veira each had hits in the loss.

An article from December of 1940 tells a different type of baseball story, chronicling the passing of William E. Parsons, who spent the latter years of his life living in Oak Bluffs but was also one of the oldest pro baseball players in the country, having started playing in 1872. He played in the fledgling National League starting in 1883 at a time when the game was still known as “rounders,” and “baseball gloves and masks were as much a thing of the future as airplanes,” the Gazette article states.

But the most famous baseball player to ever swing a bat on the Vineyard was Pie Traynor, generally considered to be the greatest National League third baseman prior to the 1950s. Mr. Traynor played his entire career with the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1920 to 1937, and among other accomplishments was a player manager and also played in the 1927 World Series against the New York Yankees, a team which featured legendary players Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.

To this day, Mr. Traynor is the only Cape Cod League player to be inducted into the Major League Hall of Fame.

But few people know that in the summer of 1919, at the age of 20, Mr. Traynor spent half his summer playing for the Oak Bluffs town team, while spending the rest of his time on the Cape playing for Falmouth.

John Garner Jr., director of public relations for the Cape Cod League, has done extensive research on Mr. Traynor and has seen box scores of games the future hall-of-famer played for the Oak Bluffs team.

Mr. Traynor batted .414 for the Falmouth team and .265 for the Oak Bluffs team, Mr. Garner said, during a season when word soon spread about the young infielder and his skills at the plate and in the field.

Mr. Garner said the league of 1919 was a mix of professional and local talent, and the games often had an informal quality. Some games were preceded by foot races between the players, and it was not uncommon for old men to play alongside young boys.

But it was clear from the start that Mr. Traynor was a ringer as he wowed crowds here on the Vineyard and the Cape.

“Just a year later he would be playing in the majors, and he would be in the World Series team just six years later . . . this was a guy who just loved to play the game. I think that’s why he played in two teams in 1919,” Mr. Garner said.

Clippings from the Gazette indicate that adult baseball leagues continued on the Vineyard through the 1950s, but at some point the trail goes cold. It is unclear if record keeping stopped or if the games stopped altogether, but at some point both the town leagues and the Cape and Islands league games were phased out.

Over time, these leagues were eventually replaced by two distinctively different softball leagues: the Martha’s Vineyard Men’s Softball League, an Island-wide league with regular teams that play fast-pitch softball, and Chilmark softball, a game that dates back to 1932.

Early Chilmark softball games were played in a Menemsha meadow behind Herbert and Hazel Flanders’ house. The games moved two years later to the Salt Meadows, owned by the late Anne Simon, on the road to Menemsha. In those days it was a family game, but after moving to a field behind Muriel Toomey’s house on the road to Gay Head in the late 1930s, it became more adult and male-dominated.

The games were played Sunday morning and were always played on a first-come basis; whoever showed up first got to play in the game.

Over the course of eight decades, the Chilmark game has woven its own rich tapestry of memories that now rivals the greater history of baseball on the Island. There were reported appearances by famous names like civil rights leader Roger Baldwin, novelist Robert Crichton and filmmaker Spike Lee; but perhaps the most noteworthy visit came from an iconic figure who connected the history of both Vineyard baseball and the national pastime.

Photojournalist Peter Simon, an avid softball player and die-hard New York Mets fan, recalls a story when baseball legend Jackie Robinson paid a visit to the Sunday morning Chilmark softball game. Mr. Simon sets the stage by explaining his father, Richard L. Simon, (co-founder of Simon & Schuster), was a big baseball fan growing up, and would bring the family to Ebbets Field to watch the Brooklyn Dodgers.

After Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947, Richard Simon befriended the Robinson family, and helped them to buy property in Stamford, Conn., in the 1950s, at a time when many white residents in that town were still opposed to an African American family moving into their neighborhood.

The two families remained close through Mr. Robinson’s career and after his retirement, and the Robinson family often stayed at the Simon family home here on the Vineyard when they visited. During one of these visits, in the summer of 1972, Mr. Simon was going to play in his regular Sunday morning softball game in Chilmark and invited Jackie Robinson to come along.

“So the story goes, and I was there so this is all true,” Mr. Simon said, “that Jackie Robinson came out to our little pickup softball game at Toomey Field.”

Mr. Simon said Mr. Robinson sat along the sidelines for most of the game with nobody realizing who he was. So when Mr. Simon went to plate late in the game for an at bat, he asked for time out and called over to the sidelines.

“I told everyone we have a famous ballplayer here, and asked if he wanted to pinch hit for me. So Jackie got up, took a look at the bat, and even thought about it for a second, but he thought better of it. His eyesight by then was bad, and he was suffering from diabetes. But for just a second he thought about going to the plate,” Mr. Simon said.

It was around this time that the players and spectators suddenly realized a great man was in their midst.

“I think somebody said, ‘Hey, it’s Jackie Robinson!’ and there was a bit of a stir.”

There have been countless Vineyard baseball stories since that Sunday morning in Chilmark 27 years ago, and there will certainly be more to follow. But there seems to be a certain symmetry to Jackie Robinson picking up a bat and contemplating swinging for the fences one last time a mere 77 years after a group of Vineyard whalers played hardball on the ice in the middle of the Arctic Ocean.

In the span of that quarter century, America eventually broke the color barrier, allowing Jackie Robinson to have the same opportunities as his white counterparts. And within that same span, baseball remained largely the same, both on the Vineyard and across the nation.