Blasts from the past: Locals form ‘Summit Sluggers’ to take on Colorado vintage ‘base ball’ team Saturday
FRISCO — It was the Historic Mint restaurant in Silverthorne, of all places, where Chicago-native Billy “Fudd” Phelan first found out about what will be the most unique baseball or softball game of his life. That’s saying a lot, as Phelan, a native of Chicago’s south side, for many years played “Chicago-style” softball, where fielders defend without gloves.
Luckily for Phelan, while dining at the state’s oldest steakhouse — in business since 1862 — a buddy named Shane told him that his friend Mike Webb was organizing a game. It was a one-day-only vintage “base ball” — note the two words — game pitting a collection of Summit County locals, dubbed the “Summit Sluggers” versus a traveling vintage baseball team known as The Star Base Ball Club of the Colorado Territory. And the game, set for Saturday, June 29, at “High” noon at the Frisco Adventure Park, would be played using “1864 rules” from the same time period in mid-19th century American history when the Mint was founded.
Phelan was in — no sales pitch necessary. For the recent transplant to Summit County, someone who was still looking to play on a beer-league softball team, it was the perfect way for the lifelong baseball fan to get his first swings since he moved to the Centennial State.
Phelan is hopeful his experience in the no-glove Chicago-style leagues will help him and the Sluggers come Saturday when they take on the Star Base Ball Club, the baseball team equivalent of a Civil War reenactment troupe that plays in the Colorado Vintage Base Ball Association, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation and education of 19th century base ball in Colorado.
Phelan is just one of two Summit Sluggers with the first name Bill and experience in the Chicago-style no-glove league — one Phelan said could leave ballplayers with quite the reminder of the risks of playing the game.
“We were comparing our broken fingers,” Phelan said at a recent practice, “Because, if you play long enough, everyone at least jams one finger in a disfiguring way.”
Phelan will be one of approximately 15-20 Sluggers who will take the field against The Star Club, which will be led by Colorado native Stephen “Scorpion” Castellani of Victor, Colorado. Castellani will likely play “hurler” — 1864 slang for “pitcher” — or “inner garden” — “infield” — during Saturday’s game. Just the same as his Star Base Ball Club teammate Paul “Bucky” Biwer of Collbran, Colorado, Castellani has been playing 1864-rules vintage base ball for five years. In that time, Castellani has fallen in love with the game of base ball “the way it was meant to be played,” as the vintage association puts it.
Video by Antonio Olivero and Heather Jarvis, Summit Daily staff
The way it was played in 1864 included a laundry list of slang and language of the era, such as the terms “arbitrator” for umpire, “tally-keeper,” for scorekeeper, “scouts” for outfielders, an “ace” or “tally” for runs scored and “crank” or “spectator” for fans in the grandstand.
When describing plays out on the field, say, a good catch, Castellani explained that would be referred to as a player “taking it handsomely.” A well struck ball would be dubbed something along the lines of a “Howitzer shot,” or a “straight-outer.” And a ground ball would be termed a “daisy-cutter.”
Summit Historical Society Vintage Base Ball Game
Who: Summit Sluggers vs. The Star Base Ball Club of the Colorado Territory
When: “High” noon, Saturday
Where: Frisco Adventure Park
Why: Fun, free, beer. Also, to benefit the Summit Historical Society
1864 “Base Ball” Rules: How to play
Pitching: “Hurling,” as it was known back then, is underhand from a distance of 45 feet.
Hitting: Batter, or “striker,” as it was known back then, is allowed one warning and three strikes for an out — ostensibly four strikes.
Walks: Pitchers are allowed two “unfair” pitches by the umpire followed by three balls — ostensibly five balls for a walk.
Fair or foul: Determined by where the ball landed first, not by whichever side of the fair line the ball is on when it passes first and third bases.
Outs: Known as a “hand dead,” a hitter is also ruled out if a fielder catches a strike off of one bounce.
Base running: A striker cannot run through first base, required to stop and stay.
Colorado custom: A striker/runner may interfere with a batted ball so long as he does not touch an adversary attempting to field the ball and doesn’t leave the base path.
Interference: Can take place, but not after a fielder has touched the ball
Gloves: Non-existent, fielders must use bare hands.
For a full copy of rules visit: CVBBA.org/Rules
As for compliments and insults out on the field of play, “showing sand” meant to play with spirit, “bricky” described a tough player and a “milk boy” was a strong insult for a weak player.
Oh, and then there was the term base ball players used to be beaten soundly. It’s a phrase Phelan would approve of: to be “Chicagoed.”
As for Saturday’s game at high noon, Castellani expects a whole lot of performance-art pomp and circumstance, and perhaps even some interference and fun at the Frisco Adventure Park between players and fans — err, cranks — as well.
“I’m certain there will be,” Castellani said. “I’m not sure what we will ascertain tomorrow, as all of us are thespians at heart.”
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