When I first spoke with Michael Thurmon two years ago, he was involved in the forming of a local vintage baseball league. He did not hold back his enthusiasm in explaining the foundation of the new venture: mid-19th Century rules would be in play.
He even invited me to participate, but it took just one practice for me to come to grips with my no longer having “baseball legs”. I decided to become an observer and not a participant, but I became one of many who hardly knew what was in store for Michael’s vision.
I had seen the Vintage Game played in 2007 while attending my first SABR (Society for American Baseball Research) convention in St. Louis. The game was an exhibition played in a park along the Mississippi River. Impressed at first glance, as the game proceeded I became even more impressed by the caliber of play, the comradery between the participants, and the dedication exhibited by the members of each team.
Like me, Michael first viewed the vintage game being played in St. Louis in 2007, different field, different teams.
“It was a game between the St. Louis Perfectos and the something-or-another somebodies. My brother had read about it and so we took my niece to see a game. It was almost majestic-like.
“We walked up a little hill and there were all these bearded guys wearing funny uniforms and not wearing gloves and they were playing base ball! I was in love.”
Born in Dyersburg, Michael is a Product Manager/Business Systems Analyst for a healthcare software company. He and his wife Kelly live in Nashville with their daughter Alex along with a dog and cat. He credits Kelly for her support in his love of baseball.
His introduction to baseball came from his grandfather who had a pitcher’s mound and home plate in his backyard and often took Michael to local ball fields for countless hours of batting and fielding practice. Besides, the local community college’s baseball field was next to the Thurmon home and he could watch all the games he wanted.
His next influence came from a friendship based on a mutual interest: the Vintage Game.
“In the fall of 2012, I met Trapper Haskins. He had played vintage base ball in Michigan and we decided to give it one more shot at starting a league. Thankfully, it happened! We had a lot of blank stares at first, but we have hit a good cadence now and most people have at least heard about what we are doing.”
In handing the 2015 reins of Commissioner to Trapper, a member of the Franklin Farriers, the journey will continue in good hands. Michael will assume a new role as Executive Director, and continue as a member of the Nashville Maroons (view his letter to the TAOVBB members here).
I have seen the exuberance grow beyond what I viewed at that exhibition beneath the Gateway Arch and what I saw at that first practice with the Maroons. Those involved with the Tennessee Association of Vintage Base Ball have displayed a deeper love and appreciation of baseball, and in doing so have given a glimpse of how baseball was played when it was known as the “Gentleman’s Game”.
In two years participation has increased from 30 to 120 “ballists” (1860’s lingo for “player”) in the league that claims the motto “No Spittin’, No Swearin’, No Gloves” (Vintage Baseball Returns). But that’s not all: exhibition games with teams from Boston, Indianapolis, and Norwood, Ohio were played this past season, and so much positive attention has been placed on what the organization is doing that it will host the national Vintage Base Ball Association’s 2015 Convention to be held March 27 – 29 in Franklin.
With expansion taking place again next season, Michael expects a promising future for the league.
“In 2015, we are adding two expansion teams in Chattanooga which will bring us to 10 teams in the league. We want to spend this year focusing on the league and making sure we are set up for success as we continue to grow.
“A personal mantra of mine is “what was good enough to get us here is not good enough to keep us here.” So I can assure you, we won’t become complacent. We will continue to strive towards bettering the league by focusing on our members and on the fans.”
It is important that baseball purists understand the Vintage Game as the forerunner of baseball as it is played on the sandlots and professional fields. This view of baseball’s foundation is quite incredible.
Thanks to Michael Thurmon, Trapper Haskins, and all Tennessee “ballists” for that.
© 2014 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.