For many area baseball enthusiasts, the future of the game is in the past.
Delaware County boasts two vintage teams, joining the more than 100 clubs around the country dedicated to celebrating America’s pastime the old-fashioned way.
Bovina native Nicholas Frandsen, 33, said when the founder of the Bovina Dairymen, Timothy “Harlo” Bray, asked him to manage the roughly 13-person team, the lure of the game was too strong to refuse. Bray formed the team, Frandsen said, in 2008.
“I left the area when I was 20, joined the Marines, traveled around the world and was in New York City for the last 15 years, but I always wanted to come back here and running this team was a huge factor,” Frandsen said. “I’ve got this thing that has all the right cultural connotations and this familial, fraternal aspect to it. You’ll have a lot of brothers and cousins on teams, so there’s this generational spanning and interweaving of baseball and relationships over time that’s really cool.”
Vintage baseball, Frandsen said, cultivates a sense of community missing from contemporary ball.
“As the game became more organized and players started to be paid, things became hyper-competitive,” he said. “But in the town teams that we’re modeled after, it was just nine guys from the local town — men who worked at the saw mill or the general store or farmers — and they played for town pride and as a fun thing to do on a Saturday or Sunday. Families would picnic, the men would play, kids would run around and it was a more communally-focused event. Once teams started to be paid, that communal aspect started to erode and you get to where we are today.”
Collin Miller, 41, manager of the Fleischmanns-area Mountain Athletic Club established by Todd Pascarella in 2007, said he, too, appreciates that charm.
“The neat thing about playing 19th-century baseball is that people come out to see your games more so than if you’re just playing in a regular adult league,” he said. “It becomes about history, culture and community, and I love that part of it.” Next year, he said, the MAC will mark the 125th anniversary of the team’s original formation.
“I’m all in,” Miller said. “You get to connect to something that actually existed 100 years ago in these communities and it’s a way to tell a story that connects our current generation to the past.”
Miller, a South Kortright resident and Binghamton native, has played vintage ball locally and in New Hampshire for 14 seasons.
Frandsen and Miller said 19th-century rules keep the game interesting.
“It might be likened to a Renaissance fair for athletes,” Frandsen, a pitcher and third baseman, said. “There are no gloves — only the catchers wear gloves — and we use wooden bats and wear old-school uniforms. It’s overhand pitching and the catcher will have a recognizable mitt, mask and chest protector, but that’s it. It’s pretty close to modern baseball, but the real difference is foul balls don’t count as strikes.”
“The (uniforms) are kind of a mix of what the average Bovinian in 1890 would’ve worn to work or play,” he said. “Harlo went through and found some old photos of the Bovina baseball team from the 1890s and saw them wearing workpants, suspenders and ties, so we modeled our uniforms on that.”
“We play in period-accurate attire and equipment,” Miller said, noting that MAC players even turn their own bats, often the morning of a game. “There are no helmets and no pitcher’s mound … because the mound didn’t come along until the 20th century. We try to stay as historically accurate as we can without being annoying about it, so we like to tell guys to leave the sunglasses off and don’t wear shoes with symbols on them, that way the fans and players get that authentic vintage experience.”
“A major rule difference, aside from equipment,” Miller said, “is that the gloves don’t have traditional webbing like a modern glove would. They’re more of a glorified work glove, with leather but very little padding. It makes it a challenge to catch and makes for an exciting Saturday.
“When we’re playing our style of ball, we play by the Spalding’s rule book from 1895,” he said. “Another major difference is that the ball is softer and has some give to it. In that sense, it was a dead ball era.”
Though local teams follow 1895 rules specifically, Frandsen and Miller said, the further back in the game’s history, the more striking the differences.
“The only way (a foul) counted as a strike was if a foul tip was caught by the catcher or bunted foul. Consequently, pitchers have a rubber arm; they’re throwing a lot of pitches and the pitcher only gets one step in delivery, there’s not a full windup,” Miller said. “If we have a pitcher go a full nine-inning game, it’s not uncommon to throw 150 pitches, so it takes its toll.”
“As you go back in time and get to the 1860s, the rules were drastically different and it was more of a hitter’s game,” Frandsen said. “They pitched underhand and you were supposed to allow the striker, or hitter, to put the ball in play on every at bat. It was a far more democratic, gentlemanly game. As guys started to throw overhand in the ’80s and ’90s, pitchers became a much more important piece on the chessboard.”
Frandsen and Miller said the appeal of vintage ball is reflected in diverse player demographics.
“I have a roster of 20 people, all mostly 20- or 30-somethings and it’s co-ed,” Miller said. “I have a few from Oneonta, Delhi, Margaretville and of course Fleischmanns — we’re all pretty central to the western Catskills.”
“Our youngest is 18 and the oldest is 60, so there’s quite a range, but almost all of the players are around 23 to 35,” Frandsen said. “They’re all local young men and, once in a while, a woman will play who just loves baseball and can’t find another team. There are no real Legion teams or adult leagues around, and this offers something a little bit different.”
Though the Dairymen and MAC enjoy playing each another frequently, Miller and Frandsen said, games take place throughout the Northeast. Games, they noted, are limited to weekends.
“It can be hard to get teams from New England and downstate to come all the way into the Catskills, so we end up being a travel team,” Miller said.
“We’ll practice once or twice in springtime and then it’s just playing,” Frandsen said. “We play 10 dates this year, with a couple of doubleheaders.”
“A lot of times, we play ballgames in conjunction with local events,” he said, naming Bovina Day on July 20, Taste of the Catskills and Fleischmanns Founders Day as examples. “Those (events) have significantly more of a community aspect to them, so we tend to get pretty good-sized crowds. There’s food and it’s a wholesome, nice thing to do on a sunny afternoon and that’s what we’re going for.” Admission, he nsaid, is always free.
Frandsen said the Dairymen’s next game against the Mountain Athletic Club begins at “high noon” on June 29 in Fleischmanns.
Frandsen and Miller said their localized enthusiasm for vintage baseball is part of a national trend.
“I’ve seen quite a few teams pop up,” Frandsen said. “The number of teams has at least doubled over the last 10 years … and now there’s the Vintage Base Ball Association that provides introductions, links, insurance and that sort of thing for vintage clubs.”
“It’s a baseball subculture and it’s really expanded on the West Coast and in areas that didn’t have baseball before the Civil War,” Miller said. “I think it has a tremendous future.”
To learn more about playing vintage ball or to view game schedules, find “Bovina Dairymen” or “Mountain Athletic Club Vintage Base Ball” (with period-accurate, two-word spelling) on Facebook. Also, visit www.macvintagebaseball.org or email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.