The 2017 Tennessee Association of Vintage Baseball season recently concluded. Twelve teams from the four corners of middle and east Tennessee competed brilliantly during the regular season, then gathered at Franklin’s Carnton Plantation to compete for the season’s championship playoffs.
The Mountain City Club of Chattanooga suffered no losses in capturing the league’s pennant, but the Stewarts Creek Scouts won out in the two-day tournament to take the cherished prize, the Sulphur Dell Cup.
Playing according to the rules of 1864, the “bound rule” is in effect, calling for a batter (striker) to be called out when a fielder catches a ball on the first hop. Of course, catching the ball on the fly also terminates the striker, but no gloves are worn. “No Spittin’, No Swearin’, No Gloves!” is often the expressed slogan.
The organization was established in 2012 “to entertain and educate our communities by recreating the civility of 19th century base ball.” Two teams began the inaugural season, but soon the “Gentleman’s Game” was transformed with the addition of female players to become a “Lady and Gentleman’s Game”, and additional clubs were soon added.
But don’t believe these ballists are putting on a show. These folks play to win; even though civility stands tall, players do their best to compete. There are plenty of wrenched knees, jammed fingers, and bruises to prove it.
And I can attest to it, too.
A spectator of this league for five years, this season I was proud to have been accepted as an umpire, an arbiter. Disputed plays on the field are first settled by the players involved, and if no mutual conclusion can be reached, the captains of the two clubs are called on for a decision. If they cannot agree, the umpire renders a decision based on what he saw, and often what spectators, or “cranks”, may have seen.
In all my years of baseball, whether as a player, and observer, a fan, or a curious bystander, this was by far my most enjoyable. Sure, I rendered some unpopular decisions. I tell the captains before each game that if indecision goes from the players, to them, and then to me, someone is not going to be happy with my judgment.
But these ladies and gentlemen are just that: ladies and gentlemen, and it is refreshing, it is invigorating, and it is exhilarating. I cannot express it much beyond that; to be around strangers who have become friends in the common good of base ball places us all in a better time and place. No wonder they play it – they love it so much.
A two-day event this past weekend at The Hermitage’s Harvest Festival included six games that included two visiting ball clubs, the Bluegrass Barons from Kentucky and the Indianapolis Blues. The Stewarts Creek Scouts joined the Rag-tags and the Hog & Hominy Nine, made up of players chosen from the local league’s teams, and challenged these visiting clubs to worthy matches.
I expected good manners and courteous play, and both were exemplified in common spirit. The Blues and Barons were quality opponents, but I was truly touched by the visiting players as much as the hosting teams, how they held fast to the very soul of competitive play. It is truly a common bond among all.
It is this awareness of the purity of The Game that calls them out to compete, yet to hold on to their values.
Before each game I try to remind them how much base ball gives them by reciting a blessing: “May the way you play this glorious game, be the life you also choose to claim”.
From what I have learned about them, I believe they already knew that.
© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.
 Rules and Regulations Adopted by the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF BASE-BALL PLAYERS Held in New York December 9, 1863. Amended February 7, 2016 by the Tennessee Association of Vintage Base Ball for the 2016 season of play. From the leagues’ website. See footnote below.