That's my baseball mitt Dave Calabro is wearing on the cover of this week's paper. I'm glad somebody is getting some use out of it. I had no idea I'd be giving up gloves when I bought that mitt during the going-out-of-business sale at Galyan's last winter. I was eager to work the leather with oil and pitch-and-catch, making it mine. I've cherished every Rawlings, every Regent, every Mizuno. Now, my newest mitt, an Easton, is just a prop for a photo shoot.
Every vintage base ball player must have an old-time nickname. Here, Randy "Spider" Weber completes a play with Michael "Gov'ner" Brady during the Indianapolis Hoosiers' demonstration game at Victory Field this summer.
After playing slow-pitch softball for nearly 20 years, I've determined that the brand of ball played at the huge for-profit complexes here has little in common with the sport I grew up loving. Worst, games are restricted by a one-hour time clock. You can see the minutes ticking down on the outfield scoreboard. This is necessary, I guess, when the facility is trying to make money. People want their games to start as scheduled. They don't have time to wait around a ball field talking with their friends. But baseball was designed to defy time. The game will tell you when it's done.
I knew I wanted something else, something better. I wanted a game that's less about spending money and following the house rules - two things we get plenty of as adults anyway. I also knew my interest in baseball wasn't just in the contemporary game. I love it, to a great degree, because of its history.
A few years ago, I checked into playing what's called vintage base ball (it was two words in the olden days), with a team forming at Conner Prairie. Their games were - and still are - played on the grounds of the museum using uniforms, equipment and rules resembling base ball in the late 1800s. Although this sounded cool at the time, a newborn daughter and the distance between home downtown and the museum in Noblesville made this pursuit impossible. But I never forgot about vintage base ball.
After a not-so-fun season of softball last summer at one of those sprawling complexes - they even charge people money to come in and watch people play - I started talking with some friends about starting a new team based in the city. Surprisingly, it took little time to round up a team of great guys and a sponsor - the Indiana Historical Society, which just happened to be looking for a way to help promote a new collection of Indiana-connected baseball images. We called ourselves the Indianapolis Hoosiers after the National League team that played here in the late 1800s - also the team in the IHS' collection.
In a few quick months, we had uniforms (handmade by a nice woman in Connecticut), vintage bats and balls from a little company in Ohio, a full schedule of games taking us all over the state and a home field in front of the Medical History Museum on the grounds of the former Central State Mental Hospital.
On Saturday, Oct. 15 at noon, we play our final game of the season at Central State. It's the rubber game with Conner Prairie's team, the White River Traders - marking the end to a season that was extremely fun, educational and, occasionally, frustrating.
The biggest difference between modern baseball and the vintage game - which we really play, this isn't Civil War reenactment - takes us back to that mitt Dave Calabro is wearing on the cover. Back in the 1860s - the era most vintage teams work to replicate - players caught the ball barehanded. Sure, it is a lot softer than a modern baseball. But anything struck with a bat is going to sting when you grab it. It may - as was the case with our team a few times - even fracture a finger.
Back then, it was a hitter's game. Not only were the fielders gloveless, the pitching came in underhand, with the batter able to call for a high or low ball. But the defense had a unique advantage over today's fielders. Any ball caught on a bounce (or a "bound" in old-time talk) was an out.
Each team plays its own version of the rules, with subtle differences here and there. Each field has its own unique characteristics - kind of like playing baseball in somebody's backyard. That's ultimately what this is all about.
Playing vintage base ball is my way of stealing the game back from the demons of progress - aluminum bats, compression shorts, steroids, domed stadiums. It's my way of reliving a past I only wish I could have experienced. It's my way of catching time - even if on the bound - in the palm of my hand.
If you'd like to learn more about vintage base ball or the Indianapolis Hoosiers, e-mail Walker or visit www.vbba.org and www.indianapolishoosiers.com. The Hoosiers are interested in helping new teams form in Central Indiana.