Well hi there. Here comes another one of my adventures from the “other” side of sports. Welcome to the world of Vintage League Base Ball (yup it was two words back then). Here, on the grounds of the picturesque Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens in Akron, Ohio, we are taken back in time to the 1860’s where base ball was played for the love of the game.
Welcome, welcome all to a spectacle of gentlemanly sporting unseen for decades. I speak of Vintage League Base Ball and it is a sport that has taken quite a hold of parts of the Midwest. Representing the Rubber Capital of the world were the Akron Black Stockings. And representing the Steel City were the Franklins of Pittsburgh. We also had a third team attend that day, the Fulton Mules of Canal Fulton, just a short trip down the Tuscarawas River (and from my neck of the woods).
I decided that there was no better time than at the game to break out my Kodak BW400CN to use. It was Vintage League Base Ball after all. We got up to the Mansion at Stan Hywet and saw that the teams, or “ballists” as they called themselves, assembling in the main courtyard. There were some “cranks,” otherwise known as fans, off to the side, but we wanted to get the full experience, so my dad and I saddled up right behind the Akron bench.
We struck up a conversation with a period-dressed observer from California who was well versed in Vintage League Base Ball. This led us to talk to some of the players, which was a treat. We learned that many of the teams in the Ohio Region (including Western Pennsylvania and surrounding areas) adhered to the 1860 rules for Base Ball. This game was essentially the same game that is played today with some changes. For instance, a ball that drops, but is caught on one bounce is an out or a “hand” in 1860’s lingo. There were also such things like the lack of fielder’s gloves and the use of different balls and bats.
I found out that there were two basic “camps” that the players came from. Many of the “ballists” were former high-school and college baseball players who just liked to play. The other “camp” was the history buffs that played for the historical preservation of the game. The one constant that I saw was that they all played to have fun, no matter what age. The players ranged from a little guy of about ten or so to guys in their 60s. There was no pretension on the field. There was plenty of competitive spirit, mind you, but it didn’t get nasty like the pros sometimes do.
It is one of those times where you go out to watch a game and wind up getting involved in a cool conversation and then come back to the game when something interesting happens. We had a ball (no pun intended) just talking to the players on both sides. I also think they got a kick out of somebody wanting to take their pictures; with film no less.
I hope you enjoyed this trip back in time with me to the world of Vintage League Base Ball: “The way it was meant to be played.” Tune in next time when I take you around the gardens of Stan Hywet Hall.
And as always,
PS. I have no idea who won the games that day, I think the umpire was the only one keeping track and just barely. Lol
Tim Pawlak (aka 110isnotdead on LOMO) is a Librarian, writer, photographer and amateur historian (gotta use that History Degree somewhere). Massillon, Ohio (about an hour south of Cleveland) is where he calls home. He loves to get the feel of every new town he comes to and capture it on film. So if you make your way down the mighty Tuscarawas River, you’ll probably find him with his head buried in a lens.