2006. June

Mature Lifestyles Magazine, June, 2006

Boys of Summer
A friendly competition between friends keeps the tradition of base ball alive

They look a little strange running around on the ball field with their pressed blue pants and white shirts, trying to catch fly balls without any gloves or protective gear.

It seems dangerous, which Gordon Olson is aware of as he reminds a youngster to return to a safe area to avoid being hit by a ball. Sprains and broken bones are just some of the injuries the members of the Kent Base Ball Club have had to endure. No one seems to mind though, because they are keeping alive the birth of America’s pastime.

“In the beginning, people would come out for an afternoon to watch the local players,” said Olson, a founding member of the Kent Base Ball Club. “It was entertainment for the day.”

It was the early 1860’s, a time when the nation was headed toward the Civil War, that base ball (spelled two words) was introduced. The rules were simple. Balls caught in the air or on the bounce were considered outs. If an umpire could not determine the correct call on a close play, he would ask the players or “cranks” (the spectators) for help. The pitcher or hurler delivers the ball underhand. Balls and strikes are not called. Foul balls are called foul ticks and not counted as strikes. A batted ball is determined to be fair or foul by where it first hits the ground.

Oh, and since it was considered a gentleman’s game, bunting, stealing, and swearing were not permitted. “I can’t afford any twenty-five cent fines,” says one player as he gets ready for the team photo.

“It was quite a different game then,” Olson said, adding as the players got better and better, the rules began to change. In 1867, balls caught only in the air were considered automatic outs. The hurler was moved back and allowed to throw overhand. As players improved, gear such as gloves and masks were added Olson said. The Kent Base Ball Club and the twelve teams it plays follow either the rules of 1860 or 1867.

After a couple of failed attempts, base ball caught on in Grand Rapids in 1867 when Silas K. Pierce, a Civil War veteran, started the Kent Base Ball Club. From there, several other teams formed with friendly games and tournaments as part of the weekend entertainment.

The resurrection of the old-time leagues started about the same way. Olson was in Ohio, where he saw some vintage teams play and decided to bring it back to Grand Rapids. From there, other teams formed and now there are twelve teams participating in the annual Silas K. Pierce Tournament June 10 at John Ball Park. Games start at 9 a.m. with the final games played at 4 p.m.

Each team brings its own unique twist to a game or tournament. The Douglas Dutchers are known for the hot dogs and homemade lemonade sold during games at the Beery Field in Douglas. The House of David Echoes resurrects momories of the well-known bearded traveling teams of the early 20th century.

“It’s a lot of fun,” said Olson, who now confines his participation to umpiring. “It’s a great opportunity to bring a picnic lunch, watch a game, and enjoy the day.”

The Kent Base Ball Club plays at a variety of venues through October. Upcoming June dates include the Pierce Cup Tournament June 10 at John Ball Park and a game with the Ludington Mariners June 24 in Ludington. The Kent Base Ball Club along with the local team the Kent Base Ball Pioneers will participate in the World Series Tournament August 5 & 6 at Greenfield Village and the Huzzah Hoosier Tournament October 7 & 8 in Winona Lake, Indiana. For a complete schedule, visit http://www.kentbaseball.com.

Reproduced courtesy Mature Lifestyles Magazine. Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission.

Kent Base Ball Club, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA