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posted: 7/23/2010 12:01 AM

Take me out to the ball game, 19th century-style

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  • Mark Herman of the Oregon Ganymedes pitches during a recent vintage baseball game at Cantigny Park. The Ganymedes will take on the Lockport Sleepers at 1 p.m. Sunday at Blackberry Farm Park in Aurora.

       Mark Herman of the Oregon Ganymedes pitches during a recent vintage baseball game at Cantigny Park. The Ganymedes will take on the Lockport Sleepers at 1 p.m. Sunday at Blackberry Farm Park in Aurora.
    Randi Stella | Staff Photographer

 
 

When people in these parts talk about old-time baseball, they normally reach back to last century - 1908, to be exact - when the Chicago Cubs last won a World Series.

But baseball established its roots as the national pastime long before the Cubs' legendary run of futility began.

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"Vintage baseball" traces back to the mid-1800s when the game was quite different from the modern-day version we watch and play.

The ol' ballgame will be on display at 1 p.m. Sunday, July 25, with historic Blackberry Farm providing the perfect setting for a trip back in time. The Lockport Sleepers and Oregon Ganymedes are going to play like it's 1858.

In replica uniforms from the pre-Civil War era, the teams will play nine innings, with each team allotted three outs per inning. But don't expect too many other similarities. This is, after all, your great-great-great-great grandfather's game as it was 150 years ago.

"It's much more than a re-enactment," said Sleepers manager and founder Mark Harmon. "We consider the game a living history interpretation. It's equal parts entertainment and education."

Fans will be treated to the sport of baseball as it was intended - as a social gathering for exercise and community pride with the ideals of true sportsmanship and gentlemanly behavior.

In other words, no spitting, scratching or arguing. There is no base-stealing, either.

"A gentleman would never steal," Harmon said.

Essentially, vintage baseball is pure and less complicated. Players don't wear gloves, hurlers (pitchers) toss underhanded and strikers (batters) can't be walked. The ball (onion) is softer and the bat (willow) is thinner.

There's no diamond, no outfield fences, no foul poles and no dugouts - just a grassy field. A home run only happens when a "striker" can hit a "stinger" far enough past the "scouts" (outfielders) to allow him to run the bases all the way home.

And they don't score runs in this game; they "tally."

"This is what the people back in the day did with their free time," said Harmon. "Baseball was central to their leisure and recreation activities; it's how they socialized together and enjoyed themselves."

All the kranks (the 1858 term for fans) in attendance can expect a laid-back, enjoyable experience with few lulls in the action like today's game.

"Baseball strategy today is to strike out every batter, but back then, the pitcher's objective was to get the ball in play and let his teammates make a put-out," said Harmon.

On that note, a ball fielded on one hop is counted as an out, in addition to a fly ball that's caught.

Despite its apparent formality and seriousness, Harmon said kranks will witness "shenanigans of various types" - and no shortage of nicknames. In fact, every player goes by a nickname. So expect to hear such monikers as Hush Puppy, Sir Loin and Leather Neck - among many others - to be bandied about by the base-tenders, strikers, hurlers and kranks.

For details on Sunday's vintage baseball game, call (630) 892-1550. The game is included with regular admission to Blackberry Farm.

Jeff Long is the public relations manager for the Fox Valley Park District.

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