1996. June 19

Grand Rapids Press, June 19, 1996

`TALLY ME, SIR’ Base ball, circa 1867, to step up to the plate Saturday

Albert Belle would have a hard time playing for the Kent Base Ball Club.

If the moody Cleveland Indians’ outfielder were to join the vintage base ball club he wouldn’t be able to swear, spit, wear a glove and he would have to call the umpire “sir.”

The rules of baseball have changed drastically since 1867, when the Kent Base Ball Club was first formed. Fans will have the opportunity to see the old game in action Saturday at John Ball Park.

Adorned in full-length blue trousers, white shirts and blue and white striped caps, the Kents will take the field Saturday to recreate the game of base ball in a four-team tournament scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m.

“It’s a great game,” said Gordon Olson, the Grand Rapids city historian. “And it’s a great opportunity to show people how base ball was played 129 years ago.”

The Salt City club of Manistee, the Ludington Mariners and the Third Michigan Infantry will join the Kents in the tournament.

The Kent Base Ball Club, formed in 1867, was resurrected by a group of players led by Olson in 1991 in an attempt to recapture the roots of base ball. The team consists of 15 players and plays a 13-game schedule.

The game of base ball came about during the Civil War when soldiers had time on their hands. When the war ended, they brought the game home with them.

The Kents were the first base ball club to be organized and survive in the Grand Rapids area.

Playing without gloves in a major adjustment for the 1996 players.

“I was a little concerned at first,” said Olson, who often plays first base. “But I quickly realized the ball is hard and all you have to do is give a little and make two-handed catches so it doesn’t hurt as much.”

The ball, which is the same size as a standard baseball, is leather-encased and hand stitched.

Key rules include: Balls caught on a bounce are outs, stealing and sliding are prohibited, and infielders must stay on their base until the ball is pitched.

When a player scores a run – or tallies an ace – he must ring a large brass bell and say: “Tally me, sir” for the umpire to recognize his run.

“We’ve had times when a player forgot to ring the bell,” said Geoffrey Gillis, the Kent catcher. “And the umpire refused to recognize his ace.”

Umpires still have their place behind the plate, but they don’t call balls and strikes. That job is left to the pitcher.

The batter, or striker, tells the pitcher where he wants the pitch. If the striker is not satisfied, he waits for a pitch to his liking.

The umpire, however, does have a function. He will fine a player for cursing or spitting. He will also serve as the arbitrator between players involved in an argument.

Baseball fans have seen balls being caught in the ivy-covered walls of Wrigley Field, but trees in the outfield?

It happened to the Kent team last year in a game played in Ohio when a ball lodged in an outfield tree. The home team argued that since the ball never touched the ground the batter should be ruled out. The umpire, who was from Ohio, agreed, Olson said.

And then there’s the one about the train in the outfield.

“We were playing a game in Greenfield one time,” Gillis said. “And one of our players hit a ball over the train track that almost hit the train.”

There won’t be any trains at the park on Saturday, but there will be a 1:30 p.m. clinic for youngsters and a pantomime rendition of Casey At The Bat before the finals contest.

Fans are encourage to bring a picnic lunch. Game programs and replicas of newspapers of the time will be sold with the proceeds benefiting the YMCA Inner City Youth Baseball program.

Reproduced courtesy The Grand Rapids Press. Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission.

Kent Base Ball Club, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA