Old-fashioned ball

Published 12:02pm Monday, July 1, 2013

Grand Meadow team defeats Rochester in 1860s-style play

Both teams shook their hats at the sky and chanted “hip, hip huzzah” in Grand Meadow Saturday night after a gentlemen’s game in which the last thing that mattered was the score.

Regardless, the Grand Meadow Nine beat the Rochester Roosters 22-15 after 8.5 innings of friendly banter, 25-cent fines and jammed fingers in a vintage, 1860s-style “base ball” game. There are no gloves in this game, and infractions such as untucked shirts or unruly comments warrant fines for a quarter each time. Even the crowd isn’t exempt from the strict rules that aim to keep gentlemanly order on the field. However, that element only stirred more shenanigans as the game progressed.

“It seemed like a lot more of the cranks were getting into it, which I love,” said Mower County Historical Society Executive Director Dustin Heckman, who played under the alias “Professor.”

Each player had his own nickname, based off his profession, lineage or quirky characteristic.

It was the second year Heckman played the vintage game against Rochester. While GM lost the game last year, this year’s team sharpened its awareness of the rules as the innings passed.

The Roosters held a close lead over GM into the third inning, 3-2, but GM busted out the bats and scored eight “aces” in the fourth inning. In vintage ball, runs were called aces. And on Saturday, players had to yell at their teammates several times during the first few innings as they routinely forgot to ring the bell after each ace. With many unique rules, the vintage game was quite different than today’s game. That also made it more fun for most.

“I love it,” said Ryan Timm of the GM Nine, whose wife is curator at the Mower County Historical Society. “It keeps you thinking the whole time.”

While Grand Meadow has scraped together a team the last two years, many of Rochester’s players have played several seasons and multiple games each year. For Rochester’s Greg Kraus, there’s something a little more fun about playing the game this way.

“I’ve been playing about eight, nine years,” Kraus said. “I like to play the game the way it was meant to be played … and I never have to worry about forgetting my glove at home.”

With underhand pitching and a softer ball, both teams sent plenty of rocket shots to the outfield and into a drainage ditch. Despite an actual baseball field just several hundred yards away, these living-in-the-past athletes opted for an open, grassy area. They tried to judge fly-balls the best they could and use the one-hop rule to still get batters out.

At the end of a gentlemanly match, players gathered for their cheer. It didn’t matter who had won, and the century-and-a-half old tradition will likely be back for next year, too. Heckman hopes MCHS can form a permanent team in the county and hold several games each summer in coming years.


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