Traverse City Record-Eagle

September 22, 2013

Take Me Back to the Ball Game

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Picture this.

Go to a baseball game and discover the pitcher is called a “ballist.” The catcher is a “behind” and the infield and outfield players are “gardeners.” The umpire stops the game if a player spits or swears. He makes the player apologize to the ladies in the crowd of “rooters,” also called “bugs” or “cranks.”

There’s an opportunity to see all that and more this afternoon, when the Mossbacks of Petoskey and the Traverse City Hustlers gather for a vintage baseball “Battle of the Queen Cities” match, organized by the History Center of Traverse City.

The game is the first time the Hustlers have played in more than a century, and it’s part of the History Center’s autumn Jubilee, executive director Bill Kennis said.

The gates open at 3:30 p.m. at the Traverse City Softball Field at Pine and 13th streets next to Thirlby Field. The first “hurl” is 4:05 p.m. Tickets for the few bleacher seats can be purchased at the gate, but the event is free and fans are welcome to bring their own lawn chairs, Kennis said.

“Traverse City Mayor Michael Estes has wagered a lug of cherries that his Hustlers can win the match,” Kennis added, tongue in cheek. “And Petoskey Mayor Bill Fraser is staking a bucket of Petoskey stones that his Mossbacks will ace the Hustlers.”

The two teams will play by rules created in 1863 — years before “base ball” became one word, players wore gloves and the brand-new sport became a favorite American pastime. It was a time when “strikers” (batters) could not slide or overrun first base, outs were called “dead hands,” and innings ended after “three dead hands.”

Speaking of hands, the History Center will supply handouts that explain the 1863 rules.

Both teams will wear replica uniforms, but not baseball gloves. Most ballists played with bare hands until the mid-1890s when players began wearing gloves in the field.

Mossback captain Matt Berger scolded Traverse City for claiming the title, “Queen City of the North” for more than a century.

“We’re thoroughly displeased with this idea and we’re winning the name back,” he said in a recent interview.

The Jubilee celebration at the field features an old-fashioned ice cream social donated by Moomers Homemade Ice Cream and sausage provided by Maxbauer’s Meat Market. Hagerty Insurance also arranged a classic car display near the game. A post-match reception for the players will be hosted by Blue Tractor saloon, but only the players will be fed, Kennis said.

Blue Tractor’s site on Union Street in Old Town once was called Novotny’s — a Hustlers’ favored haunt.

“The Mossbacks are named after early northern Michigan homesteaders,” Kennis said. “The Hustlers, one of Traverse City’s earliest baseball teams, require no explanation.”

The four-year-old Mossbacks and Ludington’s Mariners Old Time Base Ball Team are the only northern Michigan teams among the state’s 24 teams registered with the national Vintage Base Ball Association. The association was founded in 1996 to “preserve, perpetuate, and promote the game of base ball as it was played during its formative years.” It uses the rules, equipment, uniforms, behavior and facilities to conform with the earliest version of the sport, dating back to the mid-19th century.

Berger hopes Traverse City will become enamored with the sport and start its own team. Today’s Hustlers team will be made up of teen players from Traverse City’s 131’s baseball club, as well as some “older guys,” Kennis said.

The Mossbacks’ average age is about 40.

“Don’t you think it’s a fair match?” asked Berger, who will umpire the game. “Old guys play high school guys, but with our rules?”

Umpires can make up their own rules, he added.