Baseball fans return to sport’s roots

The Vintage Base Ball Association promotes the history of the game and uses rules that tell players to forgo gloves and use a plate instead of a pitcher's mound, among other changes to modern baseball.

Colleen Harrison/The Saginaw News/AP/File
Players participate in the Michigan State Championship vintage base ball tournament at Carroll Park in Bay City, Mich., in 2012.

Day games, wooden bats, and box scores during the Major League Baseball season help keep the sport connected to its deep history. And this time of year, the playoff march through the World Series summons the echoes of the game’s past: Fall Classic heroes from Babe Ruth and Don Larsen to Willie Mays and Carlton Fisk, among many others, flicker to life in montages paying tribute to the drama of October.

But those historical nods pale in comparison to the Vintage Base Ball Association. Formed in 1996 in Ohio, the nonprofit isn’t a governing body. Instead the organization promotes the history of the game that was then known by two words – base ball – using rules from between the 1850s and 1880s.

What does that look like? None of the players wear gloves. The ball they play with is about an inch larger in circumference, and bats tend to be heavier and longer than in the contemporary game. There is no pitcher’s mound, but instead a plate, conforming to Civil War-era base ball. Perhaps most jarring to the modern fan, pitchers throw underhand.

Flat, open fields – not ballparks or even rec-league set-ups – are converted for vintage games. Nine innings and three outs mirror baseball today. Players are often anywhere in age from their 20s to their 60s, and there are 400 or so vintage teams.

Are these avid hobbyists the diamond’s version of historical reenactors? “We’re not reenactors, we’re re-creators,” says Brad “Brooklyn” Shaw, a former software manager at JPMorgan Chase who plays for a vintage team and serves as president of the Vintage Base Ball Association. “If the Civil War reenactors were doing what we do, they would be using real bullets. We’re playing real games.... It’s a purer form of the game.”

Learn more at www.vbba.org – or get started by growing a handlebar mustache.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.