Fittest loser
Article updated: 8/9/2013 10:34 AM

Moving Picture: Vintage baseball team follows old rules

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By Michelle Jay

Gary Schiappacasse swings and connects solidly with the ball.

The Vernon Hills man runs to first only to hear, "Striker is out on the bounce, runner takes second, only one hand."

He jogs back toward the bales of hay that serve as his team's bench.

"Nice hit, professor," one teammate says. "Way to advance the runner, professor," says another.

If it doesn't look or sound exactly like what you'd hear at a Cubs or White Sox game, it's because Schiappacasse's team, the Chicago Salmon, is based on a vintage 1858 base ball (two words back then) squad that plays according to rules from the Civil War era.

Made up of players ranging in age from 16 to Schiappacasse's 64, the team of re-enactors includes both men and women who dress and act like players from more than a century ago. Their equipment is based on what was in vogue in the mid-1800s and their nicknames have their roots from that same era.

Schiappacasse has been with the Salmon for 15 years and now serves as both a player and coach.

The team is a part of the Vintage Base Ball Association, a national association for vintage teams. The Salmon travels around the Midwest.

Schiappacasse's "career" started innocently enough when he went to watch his brother-in-law play in a vintage game. But when another player got hurt, Schiappacasse was asked to join in.

While his brother-in-law no longer plays, Schiappacasse is still at it. His son also plays on the team.

Of course, managing a team in 2013 -- even a vintage team -- is considerably different from it was in 1858.

"Initially it was just making sure people showed up and eventually I ended up managing the webpage, the Facebook page, buying equipment since we have no budget, and driving people to games," he says.

In addition, Schiappacasse also acts as an ambassador for the game. He spends time showing fans, or "cranks" as they're called in vintage vernacular, the balls and bats used in the game and explaining some of the different rules.

Both the ball and the bat are larger in vintage ball than in modern ball, for example, and some positions have different names: the shortstop is called the "rover," the catcher is the "behind" and the umpire is the "barrister."

The biggest difference, though, is how outs can be made.

"In vintage ball, it is bounce or fly out," Schiappacasse says. If the ball is caught on one bounce, the hitter, or striker, is out.

It's a rule Schiappacasse often has to explain to new fans and it can cause confusion even with the players. Such dilemmas are easily solved, though, and usually followed by good-natured ribbing.

"We tell people that we play as gentlemen, for the love of the game," Schiappacasse says. "We are re-enactors first and ballplayers second."

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