1996. June 4

Grand Rapids Press, June 4, 1996

Team a throwback in every sense of word

Imagine fielding a speeding grounder without a baseball glove … or kneeling behind the batter without the tools of ignorance … or being out when the fielder caught the ball – on one hop.

Sound strange? Those are only a few of the archaic rules that the Kent Base Ball Club of Grand Rapids will be following when it hosts a 19th-century baseball tournament June 22 at John Ball Park.

Four area teams – the Kents, the Third Michigan Infantry, the Ludington Mariners, and the Salt City Base Ball Club of Manistee – will be dressed in full period uniform when they meet to play baseball the old-fashioned way.

There will be no admission charge for spectators.

Here’s a sampling of what they’ll see:

Teams using a hand-stitched leather ball and locally-made wooden bats.

Pitchers, called hurlers, tossing the ball underhand. Catchers will be referred to as behinds. The batter, or striker, will be allowed to denote his preference for a high or low pitch.

Strikeouts occur only when the ball is completely missed by three swings; fouls balls are disregarded, and walks do not exist.

Leading off base is not allowed, and stealing is a sin.

In keeping with the morals of the day, any display of poor sportsmanship, including profanity, will be punished by a fine.

This will be the fourth year that the vintage tournament will be held on the John Ball Park South Grounds since the Kent Base Ball Club was reorganized in 1991.

The original club was founded in 1867, but met for only one season before injuries and conflicting work schedules forced them to break up. One hundred twenty-four years later, city Historian Gordon Olson began recruiting fellow softball players, and the Kents were born again.

For the last five years the Kents have travelled around the state, playing in many different community events. This year they have a 13-game schedule, which began May 18 in Greenville with a victory over the Third Michigan Infantry,

The all-day tournament here on June 22 begins with an explanation of the rules, followed by the first game at 10:30 a.m. This will be a day of more than just baseball.

Members of the Third Michigan Infantry will provide a Civil War encampment, featuring dispays and demonstrations of dress, weapons, tools and military practice from that era.

After the second game of the tournament, a kids clinic will be offered.

“We will do an activity with the kids,” said Olson, “to get them involved in trying their hand at playing baseball according to 19th century rules.”

There will be no charges for any of the events, but donations will be received for programs, souvenir rule books and newspapers, with all proceeds going to benefit the YMCA Inner City Youth Baseball program.

In past years this tournament has drawn crowds of 750 to 1,500 people.

“There is a curiosity element to it all,” said Olson. “People will come just to see how the game has changed. Families will bring kids to see the civil war encampment.

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

Kent Base Ball Club, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA