Vintage Base Ball blends sport, history and a love for both.
Take me out to the ball game, where the rules are from the 1860s, every player has a nickname and no one wears a glove.
We’re talking about vintage base ball. From relic, hand-stitched uniforms to the camaraderie often missing from sports today, vintage base ball transports fans and participants to another time for an hour or two to enjoy America’s favorite pastime.
The Tennessee Association of Vintage Base Ball was formed during the fall of 2012 by Trapper “Mama’s Boy” Haskins and Michael “Roadblock” Thurmon with play beginning in 2013. That summer there were just the two charter teams: Franklin Farriers and the Nashville Maroons.
“After playing on a vintage team in Port Huron, Michigan in 2007, I just fell in love with it,” says Haskins. “I decided to join a team in Tennessee after moving back but the problem, I found out, was there wasn’t one to join. So I set out to form one. Through Facebook I met Michael Thurmon, a Nashvillian who was also interested is seeing the game played locally. He oversaw the Nashville club, and I led the Franklin squad.”
The interest the two men were able to generate throughout the debut season allowed the league to expand to a 12 team, statewide circuit playing at nine historic venues, including Ravenswood Mansion, home of the Travellers Club of Brentwood.
“We promote living history by bringing the 19th century to life through base ball events that use the rules, equipment, costumes and culture of the 1860s,” says Travellers team captain Andy “Professor” Finch. “Our goal is to exemplify to youth and adults alike the values that are lacking in modern-day athletic programs, and encourage a sense of belonging regardless of race, gender, religious conviction or physical ability.”
Make no doubt about it though, this is a competitive game, the bats are heavy and the ball has broken some fingers. Keep in mind, 1864 base ball was a bare-handed sport, as the baseball glove had not yet been invented. Runners can’t overrun first base, pitchers toss underhand, fielders and catchers alike can catch the ball on the fly or on one bound and it’s still ruled an out. But the main difference between the vintage game and many contemporary sports, however, is not the rules but the care and camaraderie the players have for one another.
“The sense of community, that genuine esprit de corps, is really what sets us apart,” Haskins says. “We pride ourselves on playing a game held to a higher standard of conduct. At nearly every game, you’ll see some great play by a fielder cheered by the team who is batting, and you’ll see a batter complimented by the opposition on a nice hit. Now, it’s done in period language: ‘well struck, sir’ or ‘fine play,’ but the sentiment is sincere, regardless of which team’s uniform you wear.”
The Travellers Club of Brentwood is named after the historic Travellers Rest and was originally based in Oak Hill. They played their first season in 2014 and moved to Brentwood two years later. Their uniforms are produced by a company in Connecticut, with handstitched bibs on the front proudly sporting a Brentwood “B.” The pants worn by the team resemble work pants of the 1860s.
Each team in the league is comprised of 15 players. The average age in the league is 40, but the youngest player is 19 and the oldest is 72. Finch says that’s one of his favorite aspects.
“I love that I can continue to play baseball as I get older,” he says. “I can’t really play modern baseball anymore and being on the field with varying ages where the objective is to compete for the love of the game is baseball at its core.”
There are no tryouts per se. Anyone with a love of the game and an interest in its history is welcome. In fact, some of the league’s members don’t actually play, but act as umpires and volunteers at the matches.
If you are looking for some free, good family fun, look no further than Tennessee Association of Vintage Base Ball. Bring a blanket; some sunscreen and maybe a picnic to enjoy while you sit back, relax and travel back in time.
For schedules and more information, visit TennesseeVintageBaseball.com.