After the Festival of the Horse Breed Show Saturday afternoon, I trekked up the hill planning to toss off my shoes and settle down with a book. I was tired! But Ted, Patty, and Buz had other plans. They all wanted to go to the vintage baseball game at 6:30, which meant taking a shower, washing my hair and climbing on a bike. To say I was less than enthusiastic would be an understatement (after all, we are talking about a “sport” here, and you know how fond of “sports” I am). But I didn’t want to be a party pooper, so I cleaned up, and we all biked over to the parade ground behind Fort Mackinac.
Before getting into the game, I have to tell you about one of those “Mackinac moments” that occurred on the ride over. Ted took us on several wooded bike trails, and we cut through the cemetary, climbed a few small hills, and coasted down some nice slopes. It took about 15 minutes to bike to the game, and Ted had chosen a great way to go – taking Patty and Buz on trails they had not yet discovered. As we curved around to climb the last incline before the Scout Barracks, we could hear music playing just ahead. As we topped the hill, we all just stopped and sat there on our bikes taking in the scene before us. Spread out on the parade ground were the two vintage baseball teams, dressed in period uniforms. The bleachers were filled with the hometeam crowd, and the band was playing “And the Band Played On”. We just looked at each other and grinned. Only on Mackinac can you turn a corner or top a hill and instantly be transported back in time for an 1870’s baseball game. I love this place!
The Northwind Brass Band provided music for the crowd's entertainment before the game began and several times during the game . . .
. . . including playing the 1870's version of The Star Spangled Banner as the Boy Scouts raised the flags.
As early as 1871 the soldiers at Fort Mackinac were encouraged to play base ball (back then “baseball” was a two-letter word) regularly by the post commandant. In 1885 Lieutenant Edward Pratt helped form the Fort Mackinac Base Ball Club, and throughout the late 1880’s Corporal Robert “Tug” Wilson reported the results of games against teams from around northern Michigan in the Cheboygan Democrat.
In 1996, 13 vintage base ball teams assembled to form the Vintage Base Ball Association, which is now comprised of over 50 teams in 15 states in the U.S. and Canada. “Ballists” don period uniforms and recreate the game as it was played in the late-1850’s, 1860’s, and 1870’s.
The game we attended was a face-off between the Fort Mackinac Never Sweats and the Rochester, MI Grangers. The Never Sweats had a 3-4 record against the Grangers and were hoping to even up the count.
The gentleman in the red vest and black top hat is the Umpire - Mr. John "Always Right" Soma. The lady sitting at the table is the Tally Keeper - Ms. Deborah "Seamstress" Remer. When a player scores, he must walk to the Tally Keeper and ask politely for her to record his run. If he isn't polite enough, she can refuse to record the run, and it won't count.
Base Ball during this time period was first and foremost a “gentleman’s game”, and the rules were different in many ways from the rules of today. There were no gloves, no sliding, no stealing, and the hitter could request where he would like the pitched ball placed – and the pitcher had to do his best to pitch the ball as requested.
The Grangers were introduced and nicknames were prevalent, such as: Patrick "Barnraiser" McKay, Bob "Roadblock" Grace, and Ashton "Clutch" Prasatek. Some of the nicknames for the Never Sweats were "Hoot", "Pops", "Two Bags", and "Wagon Burner".
The pitcher - excuse me - "hurler" for the Never Sweats was John "Ratso" Hiller who was a member of the 1968 World Champion Detroit Tigers and was the 1973 Comeback Player of the Year. Ratso was the ace of the Tigers' bullpen as a relief hurler, and held the record for most saves in a season. The Never Sweats were very happy to have him "hurling" for them.
In the 1870's, batters were called "strikers", and an out was called "dead". So if a batter hit a ball and it was caught, the Umpire would yell, "The striker is dead!" THAT took some getting used to!
Here's another difference in the rules. If a ball was hit and bounced once before being caught, it was still "dead". Also, balls were considered fair by where the ball first touched the ground. So if a ball hit in front of home plate and then rolled into foul territory, it was still a fair ball.
"Hurlers" pitched the ball underhanded, and balls were very soft because no gloves were used. Bats were much heavier and longer than those used today, and they were made out of timber.
Phil "Pops" Porter played short stop, and if the striker was a left hander, "Pops" could move to the mirror image position of where he normally would stand.
The crowd of fans were called "cranks" and would yell, "Huzzah!" for a good play. Since it was a gentleman's game, the crowd and the opposing teams would cheer and congratulate the other team when they had a successful play.
The opposing teams sat next to each other on the bench, and there was a great deal of good natured chitchat going on throughout the game.
The field the game was played on is the same place where soldiers from Fort Mackinac would have once played games against teams from other communities. Pete "Two Bags" Pellerito, Coach of the Never Sweats, said, "It is probably the oldest continuously played field in Michigan."
Each of the players on both teams had their own baseball cards, and the cranks' children were encouraged to ask for the players' signatures during the game.
Children were also encouraged to sign the head of Mike "Cueball" Johnson.
At one point in the game, this Never Sweats player was caught smoking on the field. The game was stopped, and the Umpire called the team captain and the offending player to the center of the field. The player couldn't continue playing until a fine was paid (on the spot) and he apologized to the cranks. The cranks had to accept his apology for him to continue playing. Other infractions that carried this same penalty were spitting and swearing.
During one lull in the game, the band played "Take Me Out to the Ballgame", and Val and Lisa stole the show with their enthusiasm . . .
. . . "cause it's one - two - three strikes you're 'dead' at the ole ballgame!"
Yeahhhhhh! The Never Sweats won 8-4 . . .
. . . and the teams lined up and shook hands.
What a great time we had! Why, if all sports were like this one, I’d become a Crank! Huzzah!
Tomorrow, some sailboat pics from the Chicago to Mackinac Yacht Race. It’s been a busy, busy week!