Vintage Base Ball blends sport, history and a love for both.
Take me out to the ball game, where the rules are from the 1860s, every player has a nickname and no one wears a glove.
We’re talking about vintage base ball. From relic, hand-stitched uniforms to the camaraderie often missing from sports today, vintage base ball transports fans and participants to another time to enjoy America’s pastime.
The Tennessee Association of Vintage Base Ball was formed during the fall of 2012 by Trapper Haskins and Michael Thurmon with the first season of play in 2013. That summer there were just the two charter teams: Franklin Farriers and the Nashville Maroons.
“After playing on a vintage team in Port Huron, Michigan in 2007, I just fell in love with it,” says Haskins. “I decided to join a team in Tennessee after moving back but the problem, I found out, was there wasn’t one to join. So I set out to form one. Through Facebook I met Michael Thurmon, a Nashvillian who was also interested is seeing the game played locally. He oversaw the Nashville club, and I led the Franklin squad.”
The interest the two men were able to generate throughout the debut season allowed the league to expand to a 12 team, statewide circuit playing at nine historic venues, including Franklin’s Carnton Plantation.
So how does one get involved with vintage base ball? Do you have to be a history buff, a talented athlete or love strategy and numbers? Farriers Captain Haskins says it’s a good mix of all of the above.
“Most everyone on this team is a fan of the game of baseball,” he says. “Everyone has their reasons for playing the vintage game. Some are enamored with living history; others lean more toward the numbers – the stats of the game. And some folks are simply drawn to a sense of camaraderie. The beauty of our organization is that every player embodies some percentage of each reason. It’s a balance that works.”
Make no doubt about it; this is a competitive game. The bats are heavy and the ball has broken some fingers. Keep in mind, in 1864 base ball was a bare handed sport, because the baseball glove had not yet been invented. The main difference between the vintage game and many contemporary sports, however, is not the rules of the game but the care and camaraderie the players have for one another.
“The sense of community, that genuine esprit de corps, is really what sets us apart,” Haskins says. “We pride ourselves on playing a game held to a higher standard of conduct. At nearly every game, you’ll see some great play by a fielder cheered by the team who is batting, and you’ll see a batter complimented by the opposition on a nice hit. Now, it’s done in period language: ‘well struck, sir’ or ‘fine play,’ but the sentiment is sincere, regardless of which team’s uniform you wear.”
Speaking of uniforms, all the teams in the league wear era-appropriate attire, from their hats to their trousers. The Franklin Farriers uniform comes from Gentleman’s Emporium, which specializes in Victorian-era, civilian clothing.
“Our team’s uniforms are based not on any particular baseball uniform, but rather what a workman of the day would have worn: trousers, a collared shirt with a tie, and a wool cap,” says Haskins.
Each team in the league is comprised of 15 players. The average age in the league is 40, but the youngest player is 19 and the oldest is 72. The players come from all walks of life. There are carpenters, architects, bankers and service members. Board Chairman of the Franklin Special School District, Tim Stillings, is a Franklin Farrier, along with former Belmont University baseball standout, Derek Hamblen. There are no tryouts per se. Anyone with a love of the game and an interest in its history is welcome. In fact, some of the league’s members don’t actually play, but act as umpires and volunteers at the matches.
“We started this thing with 30 players who had a reverence for the game and respect for each other, and that hasn’t changed as we’ve grown,” says Haskins. “We’re still fond of saying we all play for the same team, we just wear different uniforms on the weekend.”
For schedules and more information, visit TennesseeVintageBaseball.com.