For baseball purists, it's more than just three hours of crotch-grabbing and spitting. It's a tradition, full of the grace and ceremony of centuries past. Baseball of the mid-1800s was a courteous contest played by gentlemen and ladies: Umpires and players alike were treated with respect. Stealing bases amounted to criminal thievery. Barehand grabs were the only grabs. There were no gloves and no free-agent market.
Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens relives the game's bygone days with its Vintage Base Ball Akron Cup Exhibition, where enthusiasts play by classic rules. "Most of us are doing this for the love of the sport, but also for the interpretation [and] the teaching," says Mark "Capt'n" Heppner, founder and hurler for the Akron Black Stockings.
Nine men's and three women's clubs play the round-robin exhibition at Stan Hywet's Great Meadow field. Decked out in period attire, playing by 1860s rules, and assuming the personas of vintage "ballists," the teams reinterpret America's pastime in the present tense. Fans can also roam Stan Hywet's gardens and grounds, listen to period music from the Unexpected Party, or talk history with President Lincoln, who's throwing out the first pitch. (After the matches, spectators are invited to join the players on the field to try their hands at 1860s-style baseball.)
Or they can heckle pitchers as they throw underhand. Or yell "Huzzah!" when they snag line drives barehanded. Best of all, they can see ladies hustle around the bases in long skirts and blouses, catching balls in their clothes.
"If one of my ladies shows too much leg or says a word that wouldn't be nice, then they get fined a day's wage, which is a quarter," says Sally Goth, captain for the Akron Lady Locks. "You raise your skirt a bit to catch a ball, but you have to be a lady." Huzzah, indeed.