At the old ballgame


“It’s like being a kid again,” says Jim Walker, one of the founding members of the Indianapolis Hoosiers, a vintage baseball team modeled after an actual team that played here circa 1900.

The Hoosiers play in a loosely organized confederation of teams from other parts of Indiana and surrounding states. What all the players have in common is a love for baseball and enthusiasm for antique versions of the game.

The style of play the Hoosiers have adopted hearkens back to a time when baseball was a hitter’s game — the pitcher’s role was to offer up balls that batters could put in play. Players on the Hoosiers catch the ball bare-handed and pitch it underhand in a style similar to softball. The ball itself is slightly bigger than today’s baseball; it’s called a “lemon peel,” meaning it has a one-piece leather cover.

But vintage baseball’s setting is what really sets it apart from the modern game.

“You play in fields that aren’t perfect,” Walker says. “There are trees and dips. It’s a lot more like when you were a kid — it takes imagination.”

The Hoosiers play on the verdant grounds of the old Central State Hospital complex on West Washington Street. Their field is basically a meadow, without clearly defined baselines or a pitcher’s mound. Fans bring picnic baskets and coolers to Hoosiers games and watch the play from blankets and lawn chairs.

Saturday, June 14, the Hoosiers, in association with the Medical History Museum at Central State and the Marion County Historical Society, are planning a day of vintage baseball and related activities, including a celebration of the making of John Sayles’ classic baseball film about the 1919 Black Sox scandal, Eight Men Out, which was shot at various locations throughout Indianapolis.

The Extra Innings Festival, as the day is being called, begins at 10 a.m. with a bus tour sponsored by the Marion County Historical Society that will visit selected sites used in the filming of Eight Men Out.

Then, at 11 a.m., Cranks (as baseball fans used to be called) can watch six vintage league teams play a round robin tournament by rules established in 1867 (no gloves, underhand pitching, old-time equipment and uniforms). Participating teams include the Hoosiers, Indianapolis Blues, White River Base Ball Club, Winona Lake Blue Laws, Dayton, Ohio, Clodbusters and the St. Louis Unions. Each round features three games at once. Rounds will be played at 11 a.m., 2 p.m. and 4:30 p.m., and the games are free of charge.

Meanwhile, at 1 p.m. in the Medical History Museum, Gerilyn Strecker of Ball State University will present a free program called “The Pride of Black Chicago: Rube Foster’s 1919 Chicago American Giants.”

At 6:30 p.m., Gene Carney, author of Burying the Black Sox: How Baseball’s Cover-Up of the 1919 World Series Scandal Almost Succeeded, will speak in the Medical History Museum. Admission is $5.

A final exhibition game between the Indianapolis Hoosiers and the Vintage All-Stars will see the sun down, and, at 9:20 p.m., Indy Parks Movies in the Park will present a free showing of Eight Men Out.

Folks and, er, Cranks are encouraged to pack picnics and bring blankets and lawn chairs. Food will also be provided throughout the day by Judge’s BBQ and the St. Anthony Parish Festival (after 5 p.m.).

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