Take Me Out to the [Vintage] Ballgame
Summertime, for me at least, means taking in copious amounts of America’s pastime. Major League Baseball has its unquestioned draws, especially if you are a Chicago Cubs fan and get to watch Franklin, Tennessee’s own World Series MVP Ben Zobrist! Minor League Baseball has its quirks and charms for sure, “Two for Tuesdays” and “Throwback [jersey] Thursdays” anyone? Then for junkies like me, college baseball and the ping of the aluminum bat is like a siren call all its own.
But, the most intriguing ‘base ball’ of them all? That is without a doubt Vintage Base Ball. Not sure what I’m talking about? I’m talking baseball, 1864 style!
On the grounds of Carnton, the sight of the Battle of Franklin, throughout the summer you can find base ball thrown way back to the way it was played in 1864. The Tennessee Association of Vintage Baseball features 12 teams from across the state, playing the game by its original rules. This means, no gloves (because they hadn’t been invented yet), no home runs (because they typically had only one ball, and they didn’t want to lose it), and pitchers who throw the ball underhanded because their primary responsibility was to give hitters a ball they could hit – not get them out.
Those of you envisioning that classic episode of Little House on the Prarie where Walnut Grove faces off against Sleepy Hollow are getting a clear picture of what I’m talking about!
The goal of the Tennessee Association of Vintage Baseball clubs is to promote living history by bringing the 19th century to life. They each wear traditional uniforms from 1864, take on the persona of players from the time and play in traditional locations like Carton and others across Tennessee.
They do this for the fun of playing of course, but also with the hopes of providing educational programs and cultural enrichment to children and adults alike. Players in the league range in age from 25 to 75, and come from all walks of life. There are everyday workers, doctors, state officials and even scientists from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
Just like in 1864, they aren’t playing in the friendly confines of stadiums like Wrigley Field or even a tiny Minor League park. No fences are separating the players from the fans. During play of the game, players on the bench or those waiting for their turn at bat will chat with onlookers, explaining the rules of the 1864 game, fielding questions and having fun with the crowds.
When you head out to the ballpark, and by that I mean wide open field, to catch a game there are a few other rule modifications from the game we know today that you should be aware of. If players catch a ball “on the bound” (one bounce) – that is considered an out. Remember, they aren’t playing with any gloves out there!
The biggest rule modification of all though may be that the players make the calls on the field – not a team of umpires. There is one official though, called the arbiter, who is there to settle any disputes if teams cannot agree on a call. In a fascinating twist, if the teams and the arbiter cannot determine the outcome of a close play, the arbiter will turn to the crowd to settle the dispute. Can you imagine if umpires today turned to the crowd to settle a close call?
Check out the events calendar to see when the Franklin Farriers take the field again, or if you find yourself in Franklin this August you can catch the season-ending tournament as all 12 teams battle for the Sulpher Dell Cup.
In a world filled with fast-paced weekends and non-stop schedules, take a step back to 1864 and enjoy America’s pastime in its earliest form.