Sometimes you vaguely hear about a trend happening – just know that it is out there – and then you get a chance to experience it first hand. I’ve heard of teams who play "vintage base ball" (space intentional, as that’s how they do it), but got chance to see it this weekend – at the Vintage Base Ball Federation World Series.
This is more than just a baseball game – it is part theater as well, with people dressed up in period (1860-1870) costumes playing various roles: hecklers, entertainers, women’s suffrage movement activists (a particularly clever way to get people to register vote I thought), and the programs being sold by old-timey looking newspaper boys and girls.
The baseball is played well enough to be interesting and the differences spice it up: 7 balls for a walk; a hit batter only gets a called ball, not a first base; there’s one ump who can appeal to the players and/or crowd for help on a call; if a ball is caught in foul territory on one bounce, it is an out. That is probably a good rule, since the players can’t wear modern baseball gloves, which means that catching is hard. And hard on the hands. No one dives for a line drive here and it makes you appreciate how important defense is (the game we saw had over 25 runs scored) to modern day baseball.
The event in Westfield is unique, with a combination of local groups selling items as a fundraiser, only $5 admission, and a beer garden with good local beer overlooking the field and the hand-painted, hand-operated (by four guys…) scoreboard. It is a relaxing, comfortable atmosphere, and one that almost seems more focused on the game at times than professional Major League Baseball, even though technically it is meant more as entertainment than MLB. Gone are the 50+ signs always visible at even a small park like Fenway, the grandstanding players, the high-fiving and kissing of jewelry (actually forbidden according to their rules of conduct) and quite possibly best of all: even though representative of a more chaste, religious time, the post-game speeches bear absolutely no mention of "I’d like to thank my Lord and Savior, Jesus" when we all know that the power(s) that be have far more important things to do than making sure a long ball goes to the right side of a foul pole.
To be fair, there is another group out there called the Vintage Base Ball Association (as opposed to Federation). The Federation is a for-profit group that bends a few of the historical accuracies to make for a better albeit less historically accurate game, while the Association is a non-profit group of clubs who are dedicated to playing games that are only extremely historically accurate. However, as is often the case, the volunteers started it, the corporation is monetizing and popularizing it, and hopefully the non-profit will benefit from that in the long-run, regardless of any animosity between them now.
I’m sure that the couple hundred people who experienced the games on Sunday will tell people about it and next year there will be a few hundred more people and soon after that, I’ll be looking back, grateful I made it to the first World Series!
As they say at the end of the game: Hip! Hip! Huzzah!