America’s Favorite Pastime
By Anna Robertson
Baseball – a ball game played between two teams of nine on a field with a diamond-shaped circuit of four bases.
The smell of popcorn in the air, the team colors proudly worn by fans, the excitement in the stands, the fast voice giving a play by play over the loud speaker, the sound of the ball cracking against the wooden bat…These are all things that come to mind when thinking of a baseball game. Memories are made attending one’s first ball game, or catching a ball in the stands, or seeing a big win. Games become tradition to some; wearing the same jersey, hat or shirt, sitting in the same area, saying the same chant…There are so many good thoughts and nostalgia when people think about baseball.
Now, imagine seeing a game the way it was played in the 19th century. The game of baseball was brought to America in 1945 and has since transformed into one of the leading sports in our country to participate in or watch. But, in the true beginning of the sport, the game was just as exciting.
The Tennessee Association of Vintage Base Ball was established in 2012 with a goal to entertain and educate the communities by recreating the civility of 19th century base ball. They promote a living history by bringing the era to life through base ball events that use the rules, equipment, costumes and culture of the 1860’s. The association also provides cultural enrichment and education programs and activities to youth and adults that emphasize honor, team play, respectful conduct and community pride. Their goal is to exemplify to youth and adults alike the values that are lacking in modern-day athletic programs, and encourage a sense of belonging regardless of race, gender, religious conviction or physical ability.
We are lucky to have two of the Vintage Base Ball teams right here in Williamson County – the Franklin Farriers and the Travellers Club of Brentwood. You can their game schedule, including other Vintage Tennessee teams online and learn how you can join in on the fun. Be a part of the history and go cheer them on at one of their next games!
In addition to monthly living history events during the playing season, they also do demonstrations and workshops for youth and senior groups, museums, historical societies, corporations and others year-round. These programs are designed to provide history in a fun and educational manner; develop team-building skills; and/or for pure entertainment. Should you care to have two teams play an exhibition game at your event, they will work with you to schedule such an event. If you would like to learn more, visit their website at tennesseevintagebaseball.com.
Vintage base ball (two words) is a reflection of how baseball (one word, the modern game) existed at an earlier time. Here are some of the main differences from modern baseball:
• The cover of a vintage ball, called a lemon-peel, is made from one piece of leather rather than two and stitched in a cross pattern. The ball is wound less tightly than a modern baseball and is slightly larger.
• There was no restriction on bat size except a 2.5” diameter on the barrel. The bats we use show a range of different styles from the late 1800s.
• The pitcher throws the ball underhanded from 45 feet away, and his or her job is to deliver the striker a hittable ball. Called balls and strikes were introduced gradually throughout the 1860s in order to increase the pace of play.
• No gloves are used; the catcher and fielders play with bare hands. Gloves, mitts, and other protective equipment didn’t make an appearance until the 1870’s and weren’t commonly used until the 1880’s.
• Before 1865, a batted ball caught “on the bound” (one bounce) caused the batter to be out. For the other base-runners, catching the ball on the bound allows them to advance in the same way as a ground ball. In 1865 the rule was changed to require the ball to be caught on the fly.
• There is no over-running of first base. If a striker running to first runs off of the bag, he is then considered a base-runner and may be tagged out.
• Unlike modern baseball, the home team doesn’t always bat in the bottom half of an inning. Who bats last is determined by the arbiter throwing a bat between the team captains. Whoever grabs the knob of the bat chooses the order of first offense or defense.
• The field is the same size and shape as the modern game, but bases are 12” square. Home plate is a 12” painted white disc. First and third bases are half way into foul territory. A line is drawn parallel to the pitchers point through home plate; hence the arbiter’s call, “striker to the line.”
• The umpire is often called the “arbiter,” and he usually positions himself behind and to the side of the striker. He is to loudly announce foul balls and balks, assess fines for ungentlemanly behavior, and request the input of the crowd if a close play is in dispute.
• After the first inning, the first striker up isn’t necessarily the next player in the order. Instead, he is the player following the last man who made an out in the previous inning.
• A striker hit by the ball is not awarded any base.
• No infield fly rule. A player may intentionally drop a ball to begin a double play
• In the early years of baseball, base-stealing was common, but sliding in the modern sense was not.
• Ungentlemanly behavior, such as spitting or cursing, was subject to a fine by the arbiter.
Information provided by tennesseevintagebaseball.com.