Reminder Assistant Editor
WESTFIELD Being a professional baseball player in today's world means five-star hotels, gourmet food, multi-million dollar endorsements and fierce competition, not for the championship trophy but for the financial incentives that reward the winning franchise.
But it wasn't always like this.
Base ball (as it was spelled until the 1880s) was a "gentlemen's game, played by talented young players in baggy uniforms [wielding] fat handle bats at 'lemon peel' stitch balls that are caught with gloves no bigger than a man's hand," Jim Bouton, chairman and CEO of the Vintage Base Ball Federation (VBBF) and former New York Yankees pitcher, said.
During a press conference at City Hall last Wednesday, Bouton, dressed in 19th century attire, announced that vintage base ball would return to Westfield this summer for the Second Annual Regional Playoffs and World Championship.
Prior to the announcement, the second floor of City Hall was filled with the music of the period, resonating from the City Council Chambers. The federation had invited players dressed in full vintage uniform, the walls were adorned with American Flags of the period and equipment lay on display. Giant posters appeared detailing the scope of the reenactment and Hebrew National hot dogs (founded in 1905) and Boylan's vintage soda pop (founded in 1891) gave those in attendance a taste of what's to come when the games begin.
The vintage game will come to life on Bullens Field this July and August with the authenticity that could only be experienced on the stage or movie set.
During two weekends in July July 18-20 and 25-27 the Springfield MassMutuals, Whately Pioneers, Boston Colonials, New Hampshire Granite, Simsbury Taverneers, Hartford Senators, Roxbury Nine and Westfield Wheelmen will take the field for the regional playoffs, which will determine the team that will advance to the World Championship.
The World Championship will be played Aug. 14-17 between four teams the winner of the Regional Playoffs, the Westfield Wheelmen, a team from California and a team from Canada.
When asked who'd win, Chris "Grit" Moran, captain and catcher for the Hartford Senators, said sincerely, "The best team's gonna win."
"We live for this," Dan "Gunner" Genovese, captain, catcher and infielder for the Westfield Wheelmen, said. He explained that the rules and play of vintage base ball, which take years to develop, promote "camaraderie" and a "brotherhood" among the teammates and league members.
Tom "Hammer" Hamre, of the Whatley Pioneers, agreed. He added that the game is "hard and aggressive" because of the lack of equipment, which yields many broken fingers. He explained that the lack of the equipment allows the player to "know you made that play, not the equipment. You really go back to the fundamentals [of the game]."
Vintage base ball is currently played by 300 clubs in 32 states. In addition to the attire, the rules are also different from the modern sport seven balls equals a walk, not four; foul balls are not strikes; the umpire allows the batter to choose his strike zone; batters are not awarded first base if hit by a pitch; there are no balks; there is no pitcher's mound or rubber; and there is only one umpire. If the umpire does not see a play he will consult with the players, who must answer him truthfully, Bouton explained. The umpire may also consult with the spectators.
Bouton also explained the code of conduct, "In vintage base ball there are no batting gloves, helmets, wrist bands, elbow pads, shin guards, sunglasses, logo shoes, pajama pants, gold chains or earings. No arguing with the umpire, stepping out of the batter's box, calling time out, charging the pitcher or posing at home plate. No curtain calling, trash talking, hot dogging, chest bumping, high fiving, pointing to the sky or kissing jewelry. Just base ball."
The Regional Playoffs and World Championship will also feature a hand-operated scoreboard, actors in period costumes, 19th century music, horse-drawn wagon rides, children dressed as "newsies" selling programs and 19th century inspired billboards.
Fans are encouraged to dress in period attire and prizes will be awarded to those with the best manners and costume.
Tickets are $35 for a seven pass ticket admits one person for all seven games or seven people to one game $30 for a five pass, $24 for a three pass and $10 for one pass. Children under three years of age are free.
For more information about the VBBF, Regional Playoffs or World Championship go to www.VintageFederation.com.