Putting the past in the ol’ pastime

An old glove

By Cheeto Barrera and Damon Poeter
San Jose
– Retro sports attire is old news. Local professional ballclubs
regularly don uniforms from their past (the Golden State Warriors’
togs from the early 1970’s bearing the wonderfully arrogant

The City

logo spring to mind) to pay homage to bygone days. So it’s not
like the

throwback

movement is just getting off the ground.
By Cheeto Barrera and Damon Poeter

San Jose – Retro sports attire is old news. Local professional ballclubs regularly don uniforms from their past (the Golden State Warriors’ togs from the early 1970’s bearing the wonderfully arrogant “The City” logo spring to mind) to pay homage to bygone days. So it’s not like the “throwback” movement is just getting off the ground.

What’s novel is how far back the look can get thrown, and Steve Gazay trusts the popularity of retro chic just about as far as he can throwback it.

The Campbell resident has organized a new adult baseball league in south Santa Clara County based on one principle: older is better. The two teams in the Bay Area Vintage Base Ball League – Gazay expects more to join soon – will wear the duds and play by the rules of baseball in the 1880’s.

That’s delving so deep into the sport’s past that baseball wasn’t even spelled as one word back then – it was “base ball” in most accounts.

When the boys from the San Jose Dukes and South County (no nickname – that would be so 1890’s) clash, they’ll be playing by rules and with equipment unfamiliar to every modern ballplayer and probably even his great-grandfather. Fundamental aspects of the game were different in the 19th century. In the BAVBBL, batters are still out on three strikes from the pitcher, but they walk only after seven balls are thrown. Fouls don’t count as strikes. The pitcher stands just 50 feet from home plate – today it’s 60 feet, six inches.

Pitchers are forced to throw much slower to the plate than they do in the modern game, because the catcher’s glove is significantly smaller in the BAVBBL. In fact, all the fielders’ gloves are smaller, while bats are heavier and longer. As a result, BAVBBL games are expected to be as high-scoring as they were over 100 years ago.

“It takes a while to get used to,” says Kenny Silva, a Morgan Hill resident who plays for South County. “You have to be more fundamental and more sound and not take things for granted. I like that.”

Silva, who had been out of recreational baseball for several years after injuring his shoulder, signed up for Gazay’s vintage league after seeing a newspaper ad last summer. That’s when Gazay, who had been intrigued by the idea of vintage baseball after seeing a game between two East Coast teams on ESPN, put together the BAVBBL.

“The first year is going to be tough,” Gazay says. “It has taken the East Coast leagues a couple of years to really get strong.

“This won’t be a competitive league (in its first year). It’s just good ballplayers who love the game of baseball.”

The season, which kicks off this Sunday at Morgan Hill’s Community Park, will consist of 10 games. Gazay is trying to secure a field in San Jose, but until he does all games will be played at the MHCP.

The BAVBBL is certainly rooted in the past, but not arbitrarily so. The league’s rules come from a particular year, 1886.

That year was chosen for a couple reasons. Before 1886, fielders’ gloves only covered the palm or were nonexistent, resulting regularly in jammed or broken fingers. (The BAVBBL does depart from absolute authenticity, for safety reasons, with the anachronisms of catcher’s pads from the 1930’s, and protective cups and shin guards, which came into use at the turn of the last century.)

Also, by the mid-1880’s the overhand pitching motion was standard; it had evolved from the original underhand delivery to various stages of sidearm angles over the course of a decade. (Ironically, modern pitchers who throw from deep sidearm angles are considered oddities called “submariners” when in fact they are delivering the ball just as the game’s earliest hurlers did.)

For fans of baseball, perhaps the most appealing aspect of the area’s newest old sport will be the gentlemanly way in which it is played.

In the BAVBBL, talking with the umpire – let alone cursing him – will get you thrown out of the game. An the game’s referee must be called “Sir” on the rare occasions he’s spoken to.

Players must comport themselves with honor and grace in the vintage league. Swearing, spitting and taunting are out.

One has to wonder if the ballplayers in baseball’s early days were really such gentlemen as the league makes them out to be – their rakish mustaches alone raise doubts.

Still, in an age when the egotistical athlete sees few limits on his outrageous behavior, the BAVBBL is determined to be different.

“I like the purity of the game,” Silva says. “It’s not a ‘me’ game‚ like it is in the pros. We’re trying to promote something clean and pure. It’s fun, too, but I like that aspect.

“I’m hoping others like that aspect as well and join.”

For more information, visit http://eteamz.active.com/BAVBB

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