A Lady's Ruminations

"Jane was firm where she felt herself to be right." -Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Friday, August 05, 2005

I Love This Game

Yahoo News: Civil War-Era Baseball Recreated in Wash.:

Every year, base ball — the precursor to modern baseball — is re-created at the Vancouver National Historic Reserve in southern Washington near the Columbia River.

Similar vintage games, and even entire leagues, are cropping up around the country, harkening back to a day when the game was charmingly innocent — albeit scrappier. One reason? Gloves hadn't been invented yet.

The game was played in the 1860s by troops stationed at the U.S. Army's Fort Vancouver, later renamed the Vancouver Barracks, according to documents at the historic reserve, part of the National Park Service.

The idea was to give the soldiers a break from tedious garrison duty.

"Knowledge of base ball was spread by soldiers during the Civil War," ranger Doug Halsey said. "When the soldiers came home, they brought base ball with them."

On a recent balmy evening, a group of Fort Vancouver rangers and volunteers re-enacted the game for cranks — or fans, as they were known back then. Ladies in hoop skirts sipped tea as the 1st Oregon Volunteer Infantry took the field against the Vancouver Occidentals.

Bill "Fair Call" DeBerry served as umpire, proclaiming "One man dead!" after the first out. A brass band played between innings.

Because the players didn't wear gloves, a fly ball could be caught on the first bounce and still be counted as an out. Hurlers politely asked each striker, "Where would you like it, sir?" and then delivered an underhanded pitch.

A strike was called only after a swing and miss. There were no balls, and consequently, no walks. After one striker was thrown out "legging it" to first, he politely shook hands with the first base tender in a show of good sportsmanship.

Despite a late rally by the Volunteers, the Occidentals won 10-8. With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, the Occidentals' behind (that's a catcher in today's terminology) ran up the first base line imploring the cranks to cheer.

Nick Peck, who works for the Bonneville Power Administration, served as the scoreboard keeper, dressed in a dapper suit and hat from the period. He has been involved with the vintage re-enactment since it started five years ago.

"We just love being a part of living local history," he said. "It's a way of bringing history to life and to share it. And it's just fun."

Vancouver Mayor Royce Pollard also came out for the game.

"Every year I throw out the first ball. For some reason they have yet to ask me to play," joked Pollard, a former commander at the barracks when he was in the Army.

There are an estimated 150 vintage teams scattered around the country. A 12-team league plays in New England, while the Bay Area Vintage Base Ball League in Northern California is looking to expand.

Different teams play by different rules, based on the year being re-created. The generally accepted guidelines come from the National Association of Base-Ball Players.
Fabulous! A few summers ago I read a fabulous book called Play for a Kingdom, by Thomas Dyja. It takes place during the Civil War. A small group of Union Soldiers and a small group of Confederate Soldiers some how end up in a clearing at the same time. Rather than fight, they take a break and play a game of base ball. They end up meeting in peace a number of times and having a game. Very interesting book.