2012-06-30 / Sports

Vintage Base Ball Teams Open Season on Mackinac Island

By James Dau


Chris Schneider of the Ludington Mariners steps up to bat during his team’s second game of the day in Woodfill Park. Contrary to modern baseball, in vintage base ball the pitcher, or hurler, actively tries to get the batter to hit the ball to make the game enjoyable and exciting. Chris Schneider of the Ludington Mariners steps up to bat during his team’s second game of the day in Woodfill Park. Contrary to modern baseball, in vintage base ball the pitcher, or hurler, actively tries to get the batter to hit the ball to make the game enjoyable and exciting. “Was that too high for you, sir?” Chris “Milkbone” Bauer asked the batter after throwing a perfect strike against Brett Saxton. Mr. Saxton called back that it had been, and pointed with his bat to the spot in the air in front of him where he would prefer the next pitch to travel. Moments later the outfield was scrambling to catch Mr. Saxton’s ball as it soared over their heads and Mr. Saxton ran for first base. The ball dropped to the ground between second and third base, where it was caught on its first bounce and Mr. Saxton was declared “out.”

This was one of many exchanges that visitors to Woodfill Park below Grand Hotel saw on the warm and sunny afternoon of Saturday, June 9, as the Mackinaw City Boys, Ludington Mariners, and Douglas Dutchers, each from their respective Michigan hometowns, came together to play three games of vintage base ball. Part competitive sport, part historical reenactment, these teams, and others like them across the Midwest, play a version of the game that adheres to its rules and customs as they stood in 1860. The direct predecessor of our modern game of baseball, the members of the Boys, Mariners, and Dutchers give their audiences a glimpse of what the sport was like in its youth.


Ludington Mariners hurler Rick Follrath hurls the ball in a game of vintage base ball Sunday, June 10, in Woodfill Park. The Mariners played against teams from Mackinaw City and Douglas in the park near Grand Hotel. Ludington Mariners hurler Rick Follrath hurls the ball in a game of vintage base ball Sunday, June 10, in Woodfill Park. The Mariners played against teams from Mackinaw City and Douglas in the park near Grand Hotel. Originating on the East Coast of the United States in the 1840s, base ball was brought to Michigan by soldiers of the Civil War who encountered the game when they were sent east to fight. The survivors brought the game home with them, establishing clubs in Grand Rapids, Mount Clemens, and elsewhere. While all of the original ball clubs have since vanished with the march of history and evolution of the sport, many, like those that played Saturday, have been resurrected as vintage teams by those who would see this piece of baseball’s heritage return to life.


Ludington Mariners ballist Barry Pleiness takes a swing against the pitch hurled his way by the Mackinaw City Boys. Such pitches come underhand, and the fielders do not wear gloves when trying to catch the hit ball. Ludington Mariners ballist Barry Pleiness takes a swing against the pitch hurled his way by the Mackinaw City Boys. Such pitches come underhand, and the fielders do not wear gloves when trying to catch the hit ball. While the basic principles of the game remain the same as today, many of the rules and terms are quite different. Players do not wear gloves, helmets, or other protective equipment. Balls are pitched, or “hurled,” exclusively underhand and must pass as closely as possible over the center of home plate. If a ball is caught after its first bounce, the player who batted it is out. Teams and umpires wear period dress uniforms to complete the historical aesthetic.

What really separates vintage base ball from its modern descendant, however, is not the different set of rules that govern it, but the attitudes of its participants. Baseball has long been termed a “gentleman’s game” by its proponents, and nowhere has this characteristic of the game been more evident than between the teams that played against the backdrop of Lake Huron in Woodfill Park last Saturday.

“We really try to live up to this being a gentleman’s game,” Matt “MoonShot” Gritter, captain of the Dutchers, said lounging in the shade after his team’s second game. “There’s no swearing or spitting. The umpire can fine us if we do.”

More than maintaining minimums of polite public behavior, the teams actively encouraged each other and strove to provide opportunities for the other team to play their best game. When a player for the Dutchers hit a long ball and ran across three bases for a triple, rather than showing contempt or frustration the members of the opposing Mariners applauded his efforts. And despite losing both of their games, Captain Gritter had nothing but praise for his opponents, saying, “Even though we lost, we all had a great time. We played two really competitive games against good teams, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.”

Furthermore, a sense of personal honor was scene at the games. The umpire did not call players out or announce strikes, but rather looked to the players themselves to show the honesty and integrity to call themselves out. Runs were not automatically counted, either, but required players to, upon crossing home plate, immediately proceed to the scorekeeper, raise their right hand and request their run, or “ace,” be tallied. Players also address each other as “sir,” a term of respect for teammate and opponent alike. The function of the umpire in this game is to intervene in disputes and ensure that the players conduct themselves in a gentlemanly and honorable manner.

It’s an experience that cannot be found in modern baseball, according to those who played here on the Island Saturday.

“Douglas is a five hour drive from here,” Eugene “Pest” Dagen, said, “but it’s worth it.”

Captain Gritter agreed with his teammate, “It’s really all about the fellowship we share, both playing the game and after. We’re just happy to be here, and thankful that that Grand Hotel wanted to host us this afternoon.”

Vintage Base Ball games will be happening throughout the summer in Woodfill Park. Games will take place on July 7, July 28, August 18 and September 8 in four-game, four-team tournaments with the first game beginning at 10 a.m. and the following games each two hours after the previous.

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