1999. May 23

Grand Rapids Press, May 23, 1999

Players learn of baseball history on field
Exhibition relives games, rules of 1800

Nathan Picardat sat at the scorer’s table with a pencil in one hand and a hot dog in the other.

The first-time scorekeeper watched as players in old-time uniforms rounded third base and quickly approached him. Most of them were out of breath as they crossed the home plate made of canvas.

The players proceeded to ring a golden bell and say, “Tally me sir” to the bewildered 11-year-old.

This baseball scene, common in the early 1860’s, was revisited by baseball fans and players Saturday at John Ball Park in Grand Rapids.

The Kent Base Ball Team from Grand Rapids sponsored a four-team tournament with players dressed in historical uniforms from the Civil War era.

The Kent Team, the Ludington Mariners, the Salt City Baseball Club of Manistee and the Berrien County Cranberry Boggers played four games according to the rules of the era.

The ringing of a bell signified a run, or “ace” as they called it then.

“At the time, in order for an ace to tally, you had to report to the score keeper and they would have a bell there that you rang,” Gordon Olson, Grand Rapids city historian, said. “Because there was no loudspeaker system at the time, it let the crowd know that a run had been tallied.”

Players performed without gloves using handmade bats and adhered to a few unusual ground rules which included the following: no stealing or sliding, underhand pitching, batted balls caught on one bounce were outs and, of course, the ringing of the bell when a run was scored.

For Picardat, whose dad and grandfather played on the team from Manistee, it was exciting to be part of the spectacle.

“It’s very interesting and fun to watch,” he said. “I think the bell is a good way to make sure they score all of the runs.”

The Kent Base Ball Club was formed 130 years ago and has been an intricate part of baseball history in the city.

The replica uniforms, which include dark blue trousers, white shirts with blue trim, and white “forage” caps trimmed in blue, were worn Saturday as a symbol of old-time baseball in Grand Rapids.

The opportunity to play baseball and learn the history of the game lured many to the diamond.

“I was first interested in it because I am a historian and that’s how I got involved in it,” said Bruce Taps, 43, of Grand Rapids, who’s played for four years. “It’s interesting because there are so many different rules and I think for older players it’s not quite as competitive.”

Roger Martin, a 28-year-old attorney from Grand Rapids, plays for the Kent Team.

“It’s a good time and combines history and baseball,” Martin said. “I’ve always loved history and I’ve always loved baseball so it’s a combination of both.”

The team’s stop in Grand Rapids is the only one of the summer.

“It is nice to come here and play in Grand Rapids because we’re so used to driving,” Martin said.

“It’s nice to be here and you get a lot larger turnout when you’re on your home turf,” he said. “It’s enjoyable to be able to get out here when you live two miles down the road.”

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

Kent Base Ball Club, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA