Watching a vintage baseball game is like traveling through time – kind of. Players wear old-fashioned caps and uniforms, but they also wear modern sunglasses. Their bats and balls are based on 19th-century models, but they take pictures with camera phones. The scene is a disorienting blend of antique and supramodern.
But after the Phoenix Senators arrived in their cars and SUVs last Saturday, they strolled as a group toward the parade grounds of Fort Verde. They passed the old barracks and white picket fences, and for a second you could imagine yourself firmly planted in the 1860s.
“I’ve always been fascinated by sports history,” says David Marti, the Senators’ team captain. “I was looking for something a little out of the normal. I didn’t just want to play for a company softball team. This really brings everything together for me.”
The Arizona Territories Vintage Base Ball League opened its season last weekend, bringing together the league’s seven teams. True to their names, the teams come from far and wide: the Tucson Saguaros, the Prescott Champions, and the Glendale Gophers. Bisbee alone has two teams, the Bees and the Black Sox. The Senators were founded in 2007, and the league has hosted games for a solid decade.
Vintage baseball leagues exist across the country, and their games are distinct from other kinds of reenactments. Players wear the old-school uniforms, but they also use rules developed during the Civil War. They don’t speak or act like antebellum Americans, but they are loyal to antiquated customs: The balls are softer, the home plate is a stiff circle, and no one wears a mitt.
The players come from a range of backgrounds, and teams are more diverse than anyone in the 1860s would have permitted. But most of the players seem to be professionals with an affection for history. The games aren’t very competitive, and the training is pretty light.
“Most of us are [athletically] a little past our prime,” Marti says, “or in my case, never had a prime.”
For diehard baseball fans, the problem isn’t skill or dedication: It’s remembering how the game is supposed to be played. Marti says that rookies usually play for a year before mastering the antiquated rulebook.
“Even after explaining the rules," he says, “there’s always something that comes up and catches us off guard.”