Vintage Base Ball Comes to Tennessee

Aug 16, 2013


MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (WMOT)  -- It’s summertime in Middle Tennessee and the long, hot days of August mean just one thing: baseball.

Stroll through a park anywhere in the mid-state - small town to big city - and you’re likely to happen on a hard fought game in full swing.

At first glance, the game underway in Nashville’s Centennial Park looks like baseball, but this is  “Vintage” Base Ball. It’s played by the rules that governed the sport in 1864, when the game was still in its infancy.

A recent but growing phenomenon, vintage teams can now be found in about half of the American States, primarily in the Midwest.

The Nashville Maroons are playing the Franklin Farriers. The two clubs are the only teams in the state. Together, they make up the fledgling Tennessee Association of Vintage Base Ball.  

Trapper Haskins is the league vice president.  He says vintage base ball harks back to a kinder, gentler age.

“We don’t taunt,” Haskins says. “There’s no arguing the calls with the umpire. It’s a more genteel game. There’s just a different quality and a beauty to it playing it the way it was, you know, when the sport was in its infancy really.”

Vintage base ball also turns the commercial nature of the modern game upside down. Fans watching for free while players pay club dues to cover the costs.

Teams work hard for authenticity.

“We play the game wearing no gloves, and there’s a few minor rule differences,” Haskins explains.  “You can catch a fly ball on the bound – meaning it can hit the ground one time - and the batter would still be out.“

Tennessee league commissioner Michael Thurmon says even the language of vintage base ball harks back to the 19th century.

“You might say, ‘Well hurled,’ if somebody pitches a good pitch,” Thurmon explains. “You might say, ‘Well struck,’ for a good hit. The bat’s called a ‘willow,” the ball is called an ‘apple’ or a ‘pill.’”

Some fans turn out for the game wearing period clothing appropriate to 1864. Michael Cole came dressed as a Confederate Army officer.

“This is my second game, and seems like I get more intrigued with it every time I watch it,” Cole says.

Una Daly had never seen a game of vintage baseball and sat down nearby to watch for a while.

“I like the fact that these look like they’re community members who are out having fun, and they’re all ages. Usually it’s pretty young folks that are playing baseball,” she says.

For all Vintage Base Ball’s differences, Haskins says it’s still the game that millions adore.

“The speed of the game, the cadence, the choreography of it is just – it’s as close to perfection in sports as I think we’ve come.”

The Tennessee Vintage Base Ball Association will add four more teams next summer. The year after that, they hope to have teams statewide, from the banks of the Mississippi in the west, to the Smoky Mountains in the East.