Vintage base ball club takes the sport to a simpler time

Aug 12, 2013

Members of the Continental Base Ball Club shake hands with their opponents after a game.
Credit Chris Fusciardi

On Saturday you will get a chance to see what baseball would have looked like 150 years ago. It’s the last game of the season for the Continental Base Ball Club of Kalamazoo . The game starts at 4 p.m. at Flesher Field in Oshtemo. A vintage base ball team supported by Kalamazoo’s Historical Society. 

That's "base ball." Two words, not one. The way it was spelled in the mid-19th century. Chris Fusciardi started organizing the club in early 2012 and they played their first game in June. Fusciardi was introduced to vintage base ball in northern Michigan. He was working as the sports editor for a small paper in Kalkaska County when he came across a press release for a vintage team from Hartwick Pines State Park near Grayling. Later he brought his love of vintage base ball to the Kalamazoo area.

Credit Chris Fusciardi

“Well the Continental Base Ball Club is obviously a vintage base ball team that we base here in Kalamazoo. We are based off a team that actually played here in Kalamazoo from 1861 to roughly 1867," says Fusciardi. "There was a handful of teams that played back then and as I was trying to get this team off the ground I wanted to pull a name from a team that had actually played back then.”

Vintage base ball clubs have rules from several different years they can choose to play by. Kalamazoo’s Continental Base Ball Club plays by the 1861 rules. Fusciardi explains one of the key rule changes that took place between 1858 and 1861 while using period jargon like striker instead of hitter.  

“The main difference between 1858 and 1861 has to deal with the tag-up rule," Fusciardi says. "So, 1858 for example, if there’s a guy on first and second base and a fly ball out to left field the base runners can take off, they can just take off when the ball is hit. If the ball is caught in the air they get to go back to the bag for free. If it is caught on one bounce the striker can still be out but the base runners were able to advance at their own will so you’d go from second to score on a fly ball out to left field if it’s caught on one bounce.”

Fusciardi believed that the 1858 tag-up rule gave too much of an advantage to base runners and decided to use the 1861 rules where base-runners are forced to wait until a fly ball is caught before advancing, just like in the modern game.

Fusciardi says the vintage game is great because anyone can participate. He has seen players ranging from 18 to 77 years old.

“It was fun playing the game, it was fun playing by the old rules, it was fun playing against a club of other guys who were able to joke around with us and make it a fun atmosphere," he says. "Afterwards the custom is that the home team provides the meal for the visiting clubs and so afterwards we were able to get together and talk about baseball and talk about life and talk about the rules. It’s a fun, friendly, kind of cooperative atmosphere to be a part of.”

The club has their home contests at Flesher Field in Osthemo. The Continentals are the newest vintage base ball club in southwest Michigan but not the only one. Other area teams include the South Haven Barkpeelers, The Union Base Ball Club of Dexter, the Paw Paw Corkers, and the Benton Harbor Livery Brewers.

Christopher Caroll-Howard is a member of the Continentals and has played with the team since it started. He’s an architect by trade with an interest history so vintage base ball seemed right up his alley. He describes his experience at the club’s first game in South Haven.

“It’s a very social game at this level. Well I guess it’s not really a level but at this stage. It’s a lot of laughing and throwing the ball," says Caroll-Howard. "It’s not really competitive. So, it’s just a good camaraderie and the guys taught us a lot out there in South Haven.”