Vintage ‘base ball’ harkens back to the earliest days of the sport
It was, in the beginning, a leisurely activity.
There were no bat flips, runners taking out second baseman, beanballs.
And it wasn’t “baseball;” it was “base ball.”
“It was a gentleman’s game,” Klent Pope of Andersonville said.
Pope, or “Biscuit,” is a member of the Knoxville Holstons, a team in the Vintage Base Ball League of Tennessee.
Yes, in the Tennessee Vintage Base Ball League, everybody gets a nickname.
Check out The Knoxville Holstons in the field
Every two weeks Biscuit and other base ball enthusiasts gather in a field — at a historic location in the state — and spend a couple of hours pursuing what was once a simple leisure activity to be played on a weekend afternoon.
The rules are the same as today’s game.
The intentions, however, could not be further apart.
The niche of Tennessee Vintage Base Ball is to take the game back to how it was: A gentlemanly game between friends on a lazy afternoon,” Pope said.
Pitchers, or hurlers, don’t try to fool batters. That’s ungentlemanly and deceitful.
“The hurlers job is to deliver a hittable pitch,” Pope said.
“Hurling” underhanded 45 feet from the batter … Pretty safe to say there are a lot of balls put into play.
The bases, just like in today’s game are 90-feet apart.
The rules are a little different once the ball is in play.
You can’t over-run first base. You do, and you’re still a base runner and can be tagged out.
Catching a fly ball is, of course, an out. But so is catching a batted ball on one bounce.
And there is no such thing as an infield fly rule. A play may drop a fly ball hit in the infield to start a double play.
And you don’t play base ball on the field. You play it “in” the field.
Pope knows all about the modern game. He played it as a youngster and coached it as a young man.
So, he had that core love of the game, he knew and understood the basic principals.
Then he saw his first vintage base ball game.
I went to Ramsey House in Knoxville and saw my first vintage base ball game,” he said. “It was … It just looked fun. It was fun to watch.”
Almost eight years later Pope is playing for the Knoxville Holstons.
“I tell people it’s like watching a Civil War re-enactment, but you don’t know who’s going to win,” Pope laughed.
There are 12 teams in the Tennessee Vintage Base Ball League. All teams are based on teams that were playing in the early and mid-1800s.
The season lasts from April to September and the teams face each other once.
Games are played every two weeks.
“We need two weeks to recuperate,” Pope laughed. “I’m a little older, a little more rotund … Players in my category either pitch, play first base, catcher, maybe second base.
“The younger ones play the outfield and at shortstop. They can chase after the ball better,” he laughed.
Pope said there is a wide range when it comes to ages of the players.
“We have mid-30s guys — they play the outfield usually. And we have soem who are, I don’t know — in thier seventies?” he laughed.
Pope said Vintage Base Ball is “probably” easier to play. Not because it takes less skill, but rather equipment is simpler. “You don’t have all that equipment and gear, all of the trappings the modern game has,” he said.
Pope said there is a company that has the uniform patterns (including hats) stored and that all a player has to do is contact the company, tell them the team and the size and the player is set.
There is also a bat maker — a vintage base ball bat — in Arizona.
“The man used to live in Tennessee, but then he retired and moved to Arizona. But you can still get a vintage bat based on patterns of the bats used at that time, and he has a lot of models to choose from,” Pope said. “The company is Smacker Bats. It’s pretty cool.”
The ball is a little bigger — it’s a bout ¼-inch bigger around — than today’s baseball.
“Used to be people would make a base ball out of whatever they had handy: An old saddle, an old boot … whatever they had handy.,” Pope said.
And of course, there are no gloves.
And the game is faster.
“The idea is to pitch a ball to be hit and for the hitter to swing at the ball. It’s considered ungentlemanly not to swing a good pitch,” Pope said. “You can play nine innings in 90 minutes. It moves along pretty quickly.”
Pope said he has played in front of as many as 300 people at Ramsey House.
“The Three Rivers Rambler used to run a train to Ramsey House and the City of Knoxville ran a trolley service,” he said. “We’d have a game and there would be 200, 300 people easy.
“But the train stopped running and the City of Knoxville stopped the trolley run, but we can still get anywhere from 50 to 150 watching.”
Pope said members of the league — the players — sign up to join a “club.”
“That’s what we are, base ball clubs,” he said.
Rosters are usually 15 players and some teams may only be carrying 12 or 13, so base ball lovers are being sought.
It cost $150 to join a club.
“We want people who are serious about it, who’ll make that commitment,” he said.
While there are two teams from Knoxville — The Holstons and the Emmett Machinists — there is not a rivalry between the players.
“Remember, this is a gentlemanly game between friends on a lazy afternoon,” Pope said.
And that’s what it is.
“Sure, we’ll boast a little — build up some false rivalry with a little 1860 smack talk,” he laughed.
“But it’s all in fun.”