The view from the bench

Paul Salomon – guest columnist

That’s right, base ball, two words. That’s how it was in 1858, when base ball was just a game. Consequently, that’s how it is in the Vintage Base Ball Association, where a batter’s a “striker,” the pitcher’s a “hurler,” and “gloves are for sissies.”
Last weekend I was taken on a three-hour car ride to Rockford, Ill. I ended up at the Midway Village ball field – literally just a field of grass – to find two groups of folks dressed in base ball uniforms straight from the 1800s. They drove from hundreds of miles away to meet in this 19th century village recreation, only to spend three hours playing base ball as it had once been played, back when it was played without steroids, without the DH, and absolutely without gloves.
The 1858 game has some striking differences. On the pitching side, hurling is underarm or sidearm, there’s no strike zone or walks, and catching a ball on the first bounce is still an out (come on, there’s no gloves). On the batting side, the only strike is a swing and miss, there’s no sliding, stealing, or leadoffs, and there’s no outfield boundary.
What’s special about the vintage base ball is not only the return to old school rules, but also the return to old school attitudes. This is a game where the only way to hit a home run is to hit it hard and hustle all the way home. There’s no cocky Sammy Sosa home run hop, and there’s never been a “thinking it’s a home run” trot that ends a base early due to lack of hustle as they watch it bounce off the wall and back into play. These guys even play the bottom of the 9th no matter what.
You may be reminded of Renaissance faire-goers, or Civil War reenactors, but this is far from that. You may be thinking these are just nerds trying to act out some fantasy, but that too is the wrong thought. Vintage Ballists are just good people having fun playing ball the way it ought to be played. Everyone’s got a nickname and hustle is king. They play the game the right way, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

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