Imagine a hard hit baseball coming straight at you during a game. Your teammates are relying on you to catch it, but you don't have a glove on.
That's the way it was done back in the day.
Way back in the day. Like 1864.
The Tennessee Association of Vintage Base Ball (baseball was two words in 1864) is bringing a game to Engel Stadium on Father's Day. The league uses the rules as laid out in the 1864 edition of Beadle's Dime Base-Ball Player.
Adam "Butterbean" Alfrey explained why the Tennessee Association chose to use the 1864 rules. "What's so special about 1864 is that's the last year for the on the bound rule and so we wanted to have that element as part of the game." Back in that time, a base runner was called out if a fielder caught the ball on the first bounce. In 1865, the bound rule was eliminated.
As for a conventional fly ball out, players have adapted to doing it with their bare hands. "You learn techniques, you try to cradle the ball coming in," Alfrey said.
Eight teams across the state comprise the league, and the Oak Hill Travellers and Franklin Farriers will square off at noon in Engel Stadium. All of the players dress in period clothing and follow rules from 1864.
Teams played nine innings back in 1864, but the game didn't have called strikes or balls. A batter was known as a striker and teammates would often tell him to use his "peepers." The games didn't last as long and were much more offensive minded. Scores often eclipsed the teens.
Alfrey said they want people to feel what the game was like in its early years. "We're trying to recreate baseball in sort of its purest form and play as historically accurate as possible. Our tag line is no spittin', no swearin' and no gloves."
The players line the wooden bench with Mason jars in hand. They're filled with water, but no ice. The arbiter, or umpire, will call the striker to the plate and announce his nickname and last name. Most of the players went by nicknames such as "Butterbean" or "Freight Train."
The Nashville Maroons and Farriers were the first two teams to start playing the game within the league. The league started expanding and NewsChannel 9 caught a game in Knoxville as a preview to the upcoming game at Engel.
To keep with the historical theme, some of the players from the Knoxville Holstons arrived near the historic Ramsey House by steam train. They stepped off the train wearing the period uniforms and walking to the historic Ramsey House for the game against the Highland Rim Distllers.
About two hundred people sat up their folding chairs back from the first and third base lines. The players lined up and introduced themselves, nicknames included. "Old Stubblebeard" and "Hamspoon" from the Distillers let the home crowd know they were there. Carol White of Knoxville sat in her chair, fanning her face to beat the heat. "It's just interesting, it's something to do and it's fascinating."
A reenactor dressed as President Abraham Lincoln threw out the first pitch across home plate, which is a disc.
The ball, called a lemon-peel, is larger than a baseball but smaller than a softball. Alfrey described the differences, "When you look at the baseball, we're so accustomed to seeingthe horseshoe shapes coming together. But this is actually what they call a lemon-peel baseball. So it has a cross-stitch right across one piece of leather that's sewn together in a cross."
The players, or actors, come from all walks of life. They range in age and ability from 20 years old up to 64 years old. Former college players have even picked up and swung the heavier wooden bats supplied by The Smacker Bat Company of Murfreesboro.
And if a player goes deep, his teammates refer to it as a "four baser." Base runners have to stop on the bag and can't run past first base, unlike modern day rules.
If you would like to take a trip back in time, the game is on Father's Day at noon at Engel Stadium.
And it's free.
by John Madewell