Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Vintage Base Ball Provides a Trip to the 1800s

On Sunday we went to a completely different world, and we didn't even have to leave Nashville. In fact, we were able to travel to 1864, thanks to the Tennessee Association of Vintage Base Ball, a league full of teams that play the game according to the rules used in the 19th century. Games are played throughout Tennessee, and Sunday's double header was played in downtown Nashville near the Tennessee State Capitol.

The league first started in 2012, and games are presented as reenactments or a living history. Uniforms, equipment, and style of play are all kept as close to the 1860s as possible. The 1864 edition of Beadle’s Dime Base-Ball Player is the league's official rule book, with some minor adjustments.

Spectators will immediately notice some differences between the game on the field and the game we typically watch today, including the following:

  • Pitches are tossed underhanded to the hitter.
  • Balls caught on one bounce are considered fly balls, and the batter is out. However, runners do not need to tag up on fly balls and may continue running the bases.
  • There is no stealing, but runners may take a lead of one "stride." Runners do not have the option of running through first base without being a live runner.
  • Each park has its own ground rules. Where we watched, Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park, balls hit over the outfield walls, or fly balls hit into the ivy patches in front of the walls, are considered foul balls. (It's bad manners to hit it so far!) Like at Wrigley Field today, ground balls landing in the ivy are doubles.
  • The umpire stands near home plate, but most calls are made by the players, who have to come to an agreement. (We saw a ball land in the ivy, and the batter, assuming it was a foul ball, returned to the plate. The left fielder then called in that it was a double since it actually hit the ground before going into the ivy.)


Other games are played around Tennessee at museums, historic plantations, and other parks. The league, which originally contained only two teams, now has 10 clubs and a schedule that runs from April through September.

If you're not in Nashville, there are more than 400 teams around the country, so check around in your area. We had a lot of fun at the games and will definitely be attending more throughout the season and in future years.

Below are some pictures from our day. (Sorry for the cell phone quality!)

Our view from the first base line as the Stewart's Creek Scouts faced the Franklin Farriers.

Catching a high fly without a glove.
Ringing the bell at home plate after a score.

Shaking hands after the game.

We had a great first game, with the Scouts defeating the Farriers 11-10.

Phoenix of East Nashville warms up to play the next game.

Phoenix of East Nashville and the Nashville Maroons are introduced.

The league's bats are produced by the Smacker Bat Company in Murfreesboro, TN.

Our adopted team's banner.

The players use metal water coolers, and many drink from tin cups.

A Phoenix player selects a bat.

The white handkerchief in the fence signals that there is one out. The umpire places one in the fence for each out. Also, this female catcher was the only sign of diversity that we saw on this day, but the league's site says it is open to all players, "regardless of gender, age, or race."

A beautiful day in Nashville. The Maroons prevailed 10-3.


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