On the Diamond: ‘Where would you like it, sir?’
July 28, 2005
Long before Kenny Rogers shoved two cameramen, an angry outburst of “Blame my buttons!” could cost a base ball player a half-dime fine.And had Rogers played back in the 1860s, he would have been called a hurler. Opposing batters, called strikers, would have let him know which pitch they preferred.Every year, base ball – the precursor to modern baseball – is re-created at the Vancouver National Historic Reserve in southern Washington near the Columbia River.Similar vintage games, and even entire leagues, are cropping up around the country, harkening back to a day when the game was charmingly innocent – albeit scrappier. One reason? Gloves hadn’t been invented yet.The game was played in the 1860s by troops stationed at the U.S. Army’s Fort Vancouver, later renamed the Vancouver Barracks, according to documents at the historic reserve.On a recent balmy evening, a group of Fort Vancouver rangers and volunteers re-enacted the game for cranks – or fans, as they were known back then. Ladies in hoop skirts sipped tea as the 1st Oregon Volunteer Infantry took the field against the Vancouver Occidentals.Bill “Fair Call” DeBerry served as umpire, proclaiming “One man dead!” after the first out. A brass band played between innings.Because the players didn’t wear gloves, a fly ball could be caught on the first bounce and still be counted as an out. Hurlers politely asked each striker, “Where would you like it, sir?” and then delivered an underhanded pitch.A strike was called only after a swing and miss. There were no balls, and consequently, no walks. After one striker was thrown out “legging it” to first, he politely shook hands with the first base tender in a show of good sportsmanship.There are an estimated 150 vintage teams scattered around the country. A 12-team league plays in New England, while the Bay Area Vintage Base Ball League in Northern California is looking to expand.Different teams play by different rules, based on the year being re-created. The generally accepted guidelines come from the National Association of Base-Ball Players.”No sunglasses. No earrings. No watches. We try to block out any logos on the shoes,” Steve Gazay, president of the Bay Area league, said. “We want to make it as authentic as possible.”Despite a late rally by the Volunteers, the Occidentals won 10-8. With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, the Occidentals’ behind (that’s a catcher in today’s terminology) ran up the first base line imploring the cranks (that’s fans) to cheer.