Spring training has arrived early for a group of local Middle Tennessee baseball aficionados.
The Tennessee Association of Vintage Base Ball plays an 1860s version of America’s pastime with handmade balls and 2 1/2-inch bats, but no gloves (Photos submitted)
When speaking of “early,” we’re talking about the early days of the 1860s.
Beginning in May, the Tennessee Association of Vintage Base Ball will be in full swing with an 11-game season that extends into September.
Baseball has a history that dates back more than 100 years in the midstate, but the league’s history is somewhat shorter as it only goes back a couple of years when a conversation started between Trapper Haskins and Michael Thurmon.
Haskins, a Tennessee native, was familiar with this style of playing and joined a league in 2007 while living in Michigan.
“I had the idea of putting a league together. I looked online and found Michael Thurmon had an interest. And we started the process last fall,” Vice President Haskins said about the league’s origins.
The concept of the league is simple – promote living history by recapturing Civil War and Reconstruction era amateur ball of the 1860s. From the attire to the rules, every element is distinct to the time, dating from the 1860s to the 1880s.
During this span most players wore long pants, long sleeve shirts and a tie because it was considered a gentlemen’s game.
The association’s authenticity also extends beyond the game and into the bats and balls. A woodworking craftsman and musician by trade, Haskins has started turning bats for next year and all the balls are handmade as well.
The game was played with a ball that was similar to today’s ball but slightly softer, while bats are made of wood with a two-and-a-half inch barrel.
“It doesn’t have the same level as intensity as the modern game, but its equal parts competitive and a re-enactment for spectators,” Haskins said.
Underhand pitching was the norm and the count was a little different with the batter only allowed three balls, instead of today’s four, but consistent with three-strike and three-out count.
On the same note, the field didn’t have dirt and no fence markers existed, so players had to come by a home run the old-fashioned way, inside the park.
Haskins noted there are three main differences from the modern game and the one of old.
“First, the uniforms were different. Second are the gloves. It’s not because people didn’t want to play without them, it’s because they weren’t invented yet. Also, you can catch the ball on one bounce,” Haskins said, adding the soft ball makes bare-handed catching easier.
With the vintage style also comes the lingo. Despite the fact that one doesn’t have to know everything to participate, it’s a good idea to acquaint your self with terms such as “apple,” or “pill,” which refer to the ball.
“Daisy cutter” is also great word choice as well because it refers to a sharp grounder, while “leg it” simply means run swiftly.
The Tennessee Association of Vintage Base Ball hopes many will leg it to the games between its two clubs – the Nashville Maroons and Franklin Farriers.
In the old days, there were several teams that existed in the area and the Maroons are the re-establishment of one of those vintage teams. The Franklin Farriers claim home field advantage at the historic Carnton plantation while the Nashville Maroons have a field at Bicentennial Mall State Park.
The association will hold the teams at two for this season, but may look to expand to four or six teams next year.
Although the field is set for 2013, there are other ways to get involved such as sponsorships, umpiring and volunteering.
To learn more about the association, visit tennesseevintagebaseball.com or the group’s Facebook page.