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Striker to the line! 'Base ball' used to look and sound like this

Local team serves as re-enactors of 1860s version of the game

Shaking hands before the start of a vintage base ball game Aug. 5 at Doctors Park are Dan “Professor” Graber of the Creston (Ill.) Regulators and Dave “Night Owl” Heller of the Milwaukee Grays. At center is the arbiter Tom Tebek Becker. Players duplicate the rules, equipment and style of uniforms as the game was played in the 1860s.

Shaking hands before the start of a vintage base ball game Aug. 5 at Doctors Park are Dan “Professor” Graber of the Creston (Ill.) Regulators and Dave “Night Owl” Heller of the Milwaukee Grays. At center is the arbiter Tom Tebek Becker. Players duplicate the rules, equipment and style of uniforms as the game was played in the 1860s. Photo By Ernie Mastroianni

Aug. 15, 2012

Fox Point - When the Milwaukee Grays take the field at Doctors Park, you can expect a well-played, "gentlemanly" game of "base ball."

Yes, it's two words, as the game was once known, and don't expect the players to wear gloves, run through first base to beat out a throw, or call a strike.

The Grays, styled after a team of the same namesake which spent one year (1878) in the National League, play by the rules of 1860.

Their hurlers (pitchers) throw underhand to the opposing strikers (batters,) adhering to the custom that it wouldn't be gentlemanly to deceive a striker with a trick pitch - indeed, the striker may request where he would like the ball.

Honorable intentions

Decked out in the baggy trousers and billowing sleeves of the 19th-century game, the Grays, along with the rest of the vintage base ball teams in the area, make good sport their pride.

"A lot of things are on your honor," said Grays Co-Captain Dave Heller before their Aug. 5 match against the DuPage (Ill.) County Plowboys. "You don't see too much arguing here. We all pretty much decide the calls ourselves."

Though, when the calls are too contentious, there's an "arbiter" (an umpire of sorts) to straighten things out - at the Aug. 5 match, played by one Tom Tebek Becker, complete with bowler cap, waistcoat and knobby wooden cane.

Other old-time touches

Before the match begins, the two teams line up along the first base side foul line and make their introductions to the crowd of onlookers. As each man steps forward, he waves his cap in the air and dons his 1860s persona, crying out his nickname, which is chanted with applause by the other team.

Heller becomes "Night Owl," inspired by the late nights he works. The Grays' resident librarian, Rob Klecker, becomes "Books." Richard T. Mueller goes by "Lefty," unsurprisingly, because he's a lefty.

Again, 19th-century propriety prevails, and if the heavy uniforms become too hot, the players must appeal to the crowd for allowance to roll up their sleeves - after all, it would be scandalous to do so without the permission of the ladies in attendance.

That little tidbit of antiquated culture, like the rules and the uniforms and the lingo, are part of the history lesson the players, who consider themselves re-enactors as much as athletes, aim to show their "cranks" (fans).

"We're here to teach what the game was like back then," said Heller, "and it's about the camaraderie we have as a team, meeting new guys, and just having fun."

VINTAGE BASE BALL-ISMS

From the Grays' website:

1860 Today
Ace or Tally Run
Baller, Ballist Player
Striker Hitter
Striker to the line! Batter up!
Hurler Pitcher
Rover Shortstop
1860 Today
Behind Catcher
Cranks Fans

Dead, Hands
or Hands Dead

Outs
Match Game
Huzzah! Hooray!

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