2007. June 9

Grand Rapids Press, June 9, 2007

Huzzah! Here’s yore Base Ball

By Jake May (The Grand Rapids Press)

Playing “base ball” with no gloves may seem odd, but that was how it was done when the game originated.

And it still is played that way by vintage teams such as Grand Rapids’ own Kent Base Ball Club.

Tony “Steamboat” Pazzuoli, one of Kent BBC’s players, said he was nervous chasing down his first “sky ball.” (That’s a pop fly.)

“I wasn’t used to it … I mean, you’re bare-handed,” the 23-year-old from Grand Rapids said. “I ran over there to catch the ball and then realized I don’t have a glove on. I was already there, so I had to catch it.”

Gordon “Steamtrain” Olsen, former Grand Rapids city historian and founder of the Kent BBC, said the classic sport comes with its bruises and broken bones.

“There hasn’t been a year we haven’t had a finger broken,” Olsen said. ” … We know we’re authentic when we break fingers because, in the older games, they did it all the time.”

To play the game in its original form, teams follow sets of rules from 1860 and 1867. Catching the ball after one bounce was an out in 1860. And if you were caught spitting, swearing or sliding — you were fined.

“We want to re-create the old game — the vintage game without gloves and with real wooden bats,” Olsen said. “It’s about base ball — the way it was once played — but also about incorporating its history.”

The Kent BBC helped found the Vintage Base Ball Association in 1996, which consists of 13 Michigan-based teams. Other local teams include the Coopersville Muldoons, Douglas Dutchers, Fallasburg Cubs, Ludington Mariners, Sheridan Dandies and Sidney Stars.

Today’s Silas K. Pierce Cup Vintage Base Ball Tournament, which is organized by the Kent Base Ball Club, features local and out-of-state teams.

Local players span nearly 50 years in age. Most have some experience in the sport before joining, ranging from local softball leagues to college baseball.

Grandville’s Mike “Long Gone” Colger, a 52-year-old Kent BBC player, said he couldn’t get away from the sport after his first at-bat.

“The first time I hit the leather ball with a wooden bat, it made me feel like a 10-year-old again,” he said.

Olsen said although base ball of yesteryear is different from today’s baseball, some things will always be the same.

“It’s still got the same 90 feet between bases, nine innings and three outs,” Olsen said. “It’s like a law of physics. They just work.”

If you go:
Featured teams: Akron Black Stockings, Bay City Independents, Chicago Salmon, Coopersville Muldoons, Douglas Dutchers, Fallasburg Cubs, House of David Echoes, Kent Base Ball Club, Kent Base Ball Pioneers, Ludington Mariners, Midland Mighty Rover Hogs, Royal Oak Wahoos.

When: 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. today, noon skills contest.

Where: John Ball Park (enter at corner of Valley Avenue and Fulton Street. Field is in center of park).

Admission: Free.

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

Kent Base Ball Club, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA