On a few selected weekends from May through September you can see base ball (2 words in the nineteenth century) as it was played in 1869. The Cincinnati Red Stockings and Cincinnati Buckeyes re-create the game wearing authentic uniforms, using authentic equipment, and playing by the rules and customs of the day.
Both teams play their home games at Heritage Village Museum (www.heritagevillagecincinnati.org) and are members of the Vintage Base Ball Association (www.vbba.org), a national organization of approximately 70 teams whose mission is to preserve, perpetuate, and promote the game of base ball as it was played in its formative years, primarily the 1860’s. The Red Stockings and Buckeyes have been in existence since 2000, and each team plays approximately 40 games a year at venues throughout the Midwest and East from Minnesota to Connecticut, including an annual 3 inning exhibition at Great American Ballpark.
There are about 35 club members, ranging in age from 20’s to 60’s. The club supports itself by dues from the members. The players pay all of their own travel expenses, and buy their own uniforms. The uniforms are custom made, as close as possible to the specifications of the 1860’s clubs. The ball is made to the specifications of the day, a little larger than a modern baseball, and about the same weight.
The players are playing strictly for the love of the game, and are always anxious to answer questions about the rules or customs. It is not unusual to see players pitching to young spectators, trying a wooden bat for the first time, after the game.
Every year the club hosts the Queen City Vintage Base Ball Festival, a six team event played on the second Saturday of June (the 9th this year) at the Heritage Village Museum. Each team plays three games, but there is no champion. It is played strictly for the fun of playing the game, and to celebrate the great game of base ball, as it was played in its early years.
At the vintage game you will see gentlemanly conduct from the players (sometimes called “ballists”). Both teams will introduce themselves to the spectators before the game, and will formally congratulate each other after the game. You may see both teams shout “Huzzah” for a fine defensive play by a fielder. You may see the umpire ask a spectator, or even a player, for assistance in making a close call. You will not see players wearing gloves, they had not become popular yet.
Bases are 90 feet apart, just like today. Pitching is underhand, the pitcher stands between two 6 foot wide lines 45 feet and 51 feet from the home base. The “striker” (batter) must stand astride a line drawn through home base, and he is not permitted to over run first base. The catcher stands back and catches the ball on a bound. Balls and strikes are called only after an appropriate warning by the umpire, if a pitcher or striker is delaying the game. A foul ball is not a strike, but a foul ball caught on one bound is an out. Ballists may be heard to inspire each other by shouting “strike well” (get a hit), or “leg it” (run hard), or “good ginger” (smart play or good effort). Players may be fined for spitting, cursing, or any other ungentlemanly conduct.
For full schedules and more information see www.cincyvbb.com.