Yesterday four vintage baseball teams gathered at the Bicentennial Mall grounds at the foot of the State Capitol for an exhibition of their style of baseball. Some onlookers were introduced to the “gentlemen’s game” for the first time and others took in a revisit to last year’s inaugural season.
The Nashville Maroons and Franklin Farriers were the only members of the Tennessee Association of Vintage Base Ball (www.tennesseevintagebaseball.com) during 2013, and on Sunday were joined by the Phoenix of East Nashville and the Oak Hill Travellers on “Media Day”. Four additional teams have joined the league for the new season: the Dry Town Boys (Roane County), the Highland Rim Distillers (Springfield), the Knoxville Holstons, and the Stewarts Creek Scouts (Smyrna).
The Association uses rules from 1864: A hit ball caught on the first bounce is considered an out, and there are no gloves; there’s no spittin’ or swearin’, either. Maroons player and Association Commissioner Michael Thurman enjoys telling and showing spectators about their play, “Not many people ask questions while watching, but any player would be willing to answer. We want folks to understand that we are very approachable to explain things.”
The Oak Hill team is made up of players from Brentwood, North Franklin, and South Nashville. Greg “Benny the Kid” Benefield will be playing his first season with the newly formed team. A friend had invited him to a scrimmage as the team was being organized and he found it to his liking. Greg will be catching and playing center field for the Travellers.
“We will be playing an eleven-game schedule this year. We play here next week to open the season and we don’t return until July,” said Rick “Sticky Fingers” Compton, who is in his second year with the Maroons. “I love it; if it’s baseball, I’m there!”
Unlike current rules where the home team bats second, captains William “Trapper” Haskins of Franklin and Brad “The Georgia Peach” Hughes of the Maroons went through the ritual of the bat toss to determine who would have the choice of batting first or playing in the field first. Haskins won the last hand on the bat, and chose the Farriers as playing in the field to begin the game.
Jared “Steam Train” Brennan is a member of the Phoenix of East Nashville club. “I was into baseball when I was younger and wanted to play again, but softball was not my pace”.
An archivist who works in IT digitizing old photos, Brennan saw an article on the league and decided to join up. “The name ‘Phoenix’ comes from a team from East Nashville back in the 1800s,” he said.
Bat boy for the Farriers is 11-year-old Zachery “Cricket” McDonald, who is in his first season working to grab the bats after players take off from home. He is the son of player Glenn “Tomahawk” McDonald. “The best part is the vintage feel, the old feel. I didn’t know anything like this existed. This is better than baseball in the present,” related the sixth-grader. “Cricket” attends Brentwood Middle School.
Two “arbiters” worked the exhibition game. Ron “Judge Hiram Tatlow” Westphal and J. T. “’Nuff Said” Pigg hollered at strollers along the outfield that they are in the field of play. “You’ve been warned,” was the call by Westphal on a few occasions. Westphal’s vintage name comes from a relative from the Civil War, “the Confederate side”, he says, calling the next batter up: “Striker to the line!”
Pigg says he saw a few games last year and caught the fever. “I committed to the full season and will be calling games at the Highland Rim Distillers’ home field at Moss-Wright Park in Goodlettsville.” Both he and Westphal were dressed in period-appropriate vintage attire. “I got a little help from a friend,” says Pigg, “but the straw hat was my idea.”
A “gentleman’s game” it may be, but no one says one has to be a gentle “man” to play the game. When Brigid “Ginger” Day took her position in the field for the Oak Hill club no one gave any attention to it.
“Having played softball, I looked forward to being on this team. I was invited by a friend, Deb “Bloomer” Finch, who is also a member of the team but isn’t here today. At our first game, whoever first gets to bat or play, it doesn’t matter.”
“Ginger” works at the Brentwood Library and has always been a baseball fan. “I am from central Illinois, but my family is from Chicago and all are Cubs fans.”
A true example of how the game is played occurred when Robert “Curly” Carson batted for Oak Hill. He swung and tipped a tossed ball that the catcher caught on the first bounce, who then asked the arbiter for a ruling.
“Is the batter out if I catch a tipped ball on the first bounce?” asked the catcher.
“I didn’t see him tip it,” replied Judge Tatlow.
The batter quickly gave himself up by saying, “I did tip it”.
“Then he’s out,” ruled the Judge.
The 2014 season kicks off on Saturday, April 12, with two games scheduled at Historic Ramsay House, 2614 Thorn Grove Pike, off Gov. John Sevier Highway in Knoxville. Oak Hill will play the Dry Town Boys at 12:30 pm and Franklin will play the Knoxville Holstons following at 2:30 pm. The season ends in mid-September.
© 2014 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.