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That's 'base ball' — two words

Doug Ernst thanks the fans for coming out to Saturday's exhibition of 1860s-era base ball between the Crescents Base Ball Club of Red Wing and the Afton Red Sox Base Ball Club at Wakondiota Park in Old Frontenac. Kyle Stevens / RiverTown Multimedia1 / 3
Alex Weiss of the Afton Red Sox Base Ball Club takes a swing in a game against the Crescents Base Ball Club of Red Wing Saturday at Wakondiota Park in Old Frontenac. The two teams put on an exhibition of 1860s-era base ball. Kyle Stevens / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 3
Todd Heyer of the Afton Red Sox Base Ball Club throws a pitch during Saturday's base ball game against the Crescents Base Ball Club of Red Wing at Wakondiota Park in Old Frontenac. Kyle Stevens / RiverTown Multimedia3 / 3

FRONTENAC — Dustin Heckman has two passions. And on Saturday, he once again got to put both to use.

The Executive Director of the Goodhue County Historical Society and about two dozen others took to a field at Wakondiota Park in Old Frontenac for a game of base ball. Yes, two-words "base ball."

"I love history, and I love baseball. And this lets me do both," Heckman said after two seven-inning games entertained a solid crowd that extended into left field from near home plate.

The sweltering day may have kept a few interested fans at home, but those that were there got to see an 1860s version of the game. The play was familiar in a wiffle-ball sense. Outs are "hands" and can be recorded by tagging a runner, forces at bases, caught fly balls or, even, on grounders caught on one hop.

Oh, and there are no gloves. But the ball is larger, and softer, than what is now considered standard. And the banter is less "hey batter, batter" and more "well played, young man!"

Players are saluted after their games on Saturday at Wakondiota Park in Old Frontenac. Kyle Stevens / RiverTown Multimedia

"The biggest difference is some minor rules," Heckman said. "We don't have balls, and fair and foul balls are different. But the main thing is when base ball was started, it was for exercise, not competition. There's always competition, but that wasn't the goal."

In its third season, the Crescents Base Ball Club of Red Wing hosted the Afton Red Sox Base Ball Club. The Crescents won the first game, 7-6, but due to low numbers, the second game of the doubleheader was a mix of the two squads split into "ones" and "twos," which ended 8-0 in favor of the "ones."

The ability to field a full nine is something most vintage teams face. And it's something Heckman hopes to solve in the coming years.

Team building

"As a newer club, we're just trying to get enough guys," Heckman said. "But the more we play, the more the interest comes up, like, 'hey, I want to try that.' That's why, for the second game, we told everyone that if you want to jump in, go ahead. Even if it's just one at-bat, it's still exposing people and maybe they tell some friends about it."

The group that was there on Saturday was certainly into the game. The old-timey sayings stood out, as did something baseball once had that now seems quaint, if for no other reason than the modern versions are pretty weak. And that, of course, is nicknames, which players seemed to solely use to address each other.

Marc Morrison throws a pitch Saturday, July 15, at Wakondiota Park in Old Frontenac. Kyle Stevens / RiverTown Multimedia

There's Alex "Mad Dog" Weiss, Marc "Nessie" Morrison, Todd "Milkman" Heyer (because he "always delivers" and was also a milk delivery driver), Doug "Freight Train" Ernst and, perhaps most majestically, Ray "Captain Stache" Hanson.

Hanson immediately gets into a factoid about Daniel "Doc" Adams, who created the position of shortstop and who is not enshrined in the Hall of Fame, a contentious exclusion among vintage base ball purists.

"It's going to happen and it's going to be a glorious event," Hanson said. "There's going to be so many vintage ballplayers there, in uniform probably."

Good exercise

Hanson has been playing vintage ball for nine years, and asked why he keeps coming back, he cites the original intent of the game.

"I need the exercise," Hanson said. "And it's a lot easier to chase a baseball than it is my own shadow on a treadmill."

And that may be the hook that gets a few more players out. Hanson said that among the best players he's recruited, many were in individual sports in high school, such as track. But the team aspect draws them into base ball.

Eric Hirsch got involved years ago, and he noticed some guys from another sport that has a certain, underhand style that base ball does: slow-pitch softball.

"We got some other softball guys," Hirsch said. "It's mostly attitude I'd look for. I played townball and softball, but you get to an age where you tired of the arguing of everything and then you come to this and it's so nice. I find a lot of 30-somethings like playing because they're good enough to play but are tired of the antics."

For Heckman, that's music to his ears.

"Red Wing is very much a baseball area," Heckman said. "But it's also a unique way to present history through the history center. This is one of the goals we've had, to get a team started and be able to play consistently to be able to do another outreach piece to the community. The long-term goal is to have a core group that we can rely on consistently so we can travel to other communities."

Those goals are key to growing a game that has evolved into a billion-dollar industry with million-dollar stars playing every day on television. The rules and style of play may be a bit different, and exercise may be the driving component for some to stay involved. But, as always, there is respectful competition. And one can find it wherever one chooses.

"I had a goal one year to score 100 runs," Hanson said, noting he did not achieve the goal. "But after 52 games, I beat Joe Mauer that year."

Kyle Stevens
Kyle Stevens is a sports reporter for the Red Wing Republican Eagle. Previously, Kyle worked at the Owatonna People’s Press, as well as KWLM and KLFN in Willmar. You can contact Kyle by phone at (651) 301-7879, via e-mail at kstevens@republican-eagle.com, and follow him on Twitter @RE_KStevens.
(651) 301-7879
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