Past Time

Vintage ballplayers know their history, and they're repeating it

Back then, base ball emphasized brotherhood, fidelity and ritual. In the pregame ceremonies, teams line up in front of the crowd, and the captains -- of the visiting club first, then of the home team -- thank the spectators for their support. Then the team members introduce themselves and wish each of their opponents luck. Runners admit when they're tagged out, and even though catching the ball barehanded smarts like heck sometimes, no cursing is allowed.

Gentlemanly play and sportsmanship are evident in every aspect of vintage base ball, which, more than anything, is part of its appeal. "The goal in vintage base ball is not winning," says Bill "Battler" Battle, a sportswriter for the Washington Missourian. "It's being able to play and enjoying the friendship of playing ball with friendly people. Sometimes the line between winning and sportsmanship seems to get a little blurred. I've seen it firsthand a number of times."

Says Air Force retiree Dr. Miles "Moonlight" Bateman of both the St. Louis Unions and fledgling Trenton (Illinois) Mains: "Like the originators of the game, many of whom were Civil War veterans, I find it a pleasant diversion from reality that incorporates teamwork, camaraderie, esprit de corps and attention to detail -- all of which are military virtues as well. The big difference between vintage base ball and the military, in my mind anyway, is that in base ball it's OK to lose."

The Unions play the field while the Perfectos bat.
David Torrence
The Unions play the field while the Perfectos bat.

The men and women who play vintage-style ball believe that baseball is best when taken in its purest form. Darryl "The Music Man" Vennard, who signed up with the Perfectos because he wanted his young sons to experience baseball at its most virginal, was lured in by the purity of the vintage game.

"Professional sports rarely show competition and good behavior in the same event. It is win-at-all-costs, including questioning the umpires, oftentimes in the most aggressive manner, as well as talking smack to the opposing team. Even the video games out there incorporate this into their software," Vennard contends. "I was beginning to think that my kids would believe this is an important part of the game, when in fact when I was coming up there was no room in sports for vulgarity, bad sportsmanship and, worst of all, violence."

Vennard's teammate Ted "Doc" Yemm agrees that the well-mannered style of vintage base ball makes it attractive to baseball purists. "I was looking for something more challenging and more gentlemanly than slow-pitch softball," Yemm explains. It's hard to pick one thing that is most fun about vintage base ball, but if forced to, I'd probably say the good sportsmanship and respect demonstrated by all ballists is what makes the experience the most enjoyable."

The St. Louis Perfectos play their home games where baseball was first introduced to St. Louis, in Lafayette Park (Lafayette and Mississippi avenues). The St. Louis Unions Vintage Base Ball Club hosts games at 50 Rue St. Francois, on the Knights of Columbus ball field behind Old St. Ferdinand Shrine in Old Town Florissant.

For more information about the St. Louis Unions, visit home.earthlink.net/~stlouisunions; check out www.perfectos.org to learn more about the St. Louis Perfectos. Admission is free to all Perfectos and Unions home games. Cranks should bring lawn chairs and blankets, but leave the gloves at home.

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