By RHEA-FRANCES TETLEY
The Crestline Highlanders, the mountain’s vintage base ball team, will play its first home game of the 2019 season on Aug. 10 at 1 p.m. at Twin Peaks’ Harich Field. This vintage base ball team celebrates the past by playing with 1886 rules in the Southern Cal Vintage Base Ball League. They are inviting all “cranks” (spectators) to come out and watch the free game and they encourage cranks to “come in style,” wearing 1880s clothing to add to the vintage atmosphere.
The Crestline Highlanders so far have had an undefeated season and are getting positive press for playing vintage base ball. They were featured in the summer edition of Crestline Magazine and celebrated by being in the Jamboree Days parade. Another feature story in Inland Empire Magazine spotlighted the team, which attracted the attention of CBS Sports. CBS will be sending out a camera crew to the Aug. 10 game against the Riverside Smudge Pots for a story on the vintage sports league.
“We are really excited to play in front of our ‘cranks’ in our backyard against a great team and having CBS covering the match makes it all more special,” said “Commish” Wes Abarca.
This vintage way of playing America’s favorite sport uses the rules as written in 1886 while still featuring the traditional three strikes for an out; however, it provides for seven balls to be thrown before a batter is allowed to walk to first base. They wear traditional uniforms from the era. The 1886 rules changed the pitching technique to require overhand pitching, a change from the 1884 underhand pitching style.
Another major difference from the way the sport is played today is that only one ball is used during the entire game. This game ball would be considered a “dead ball” by modern standards, since it is not wound as tightly as a modern baseball, but it has the same diameter. The ball, since it’s more loosely wound, gets softer the more times it is hit, caught and gets muddy during the game. Pitchers also loosen the ball up by squeezing it between pitches and spitballs are not illegal.
Players use small non-webbed gloves and other replica equipment. The bats are heavy, at least 35 inches long and weigh at least 40 ounces. All scores are kept on a chalk scoreboard by the tally keeper. The umpire is called “The Sir” and wears a top hat. He has absolute authority, since traditionally they were members of the clergy or a judge. The game is played with polite rules and no arguing is permitted, making these games perfect family outings.
Crestline Highlander Wes Abarca, who is the commissioner of the Southern California Vintage Base Ball League, said, “The game demonstrates the simplicity of classic baseball, and it’s fun to play and watch.”
The members of the Crestline Highlanders are catcher, Joe “Ripper” Billheimer; pitcher/2B, Jim “Ace” Starick; 1B, Chris “Stix” Dodd; pitcher/OF/IF, Wes “Commish” Abarca; 3B/pitcher, Dylan ”Pickle” Sweet; SS/pitcher, Daniel “Kentucky” Burton; SS/2B/pitcher, Daniel Meers; IF/OF/catcher, Manny “Two-times” Darby; LF/Pitcher-Corey “Lefty” Foye; CF/Pitcher-Dustin “Sandlot” Warner and RF-Darren “Sugar McCanne.
The Highlanders’ umpire is “Sir” Roy Watson. Each of the members has to earn their nickname, which they use with pride. Most play several positions and can rotate during the game.
They invite all mountain residents to dress in period style and bring their families out to Harich Field in Twin Peaks on Aug. 10 at 1 p.m. The Smudge Pots have even posted a video on their Facebook page in anticipation of this upcoming game.
Members of the Riverside Smudge Pots came to the July Corks & Hops in Crestline. They found many mountain folks hail from Riverside, so they hope for some “huzzahs” for their side on Aug. 10.
The Highlanders also will be playing at Harich Field on Sept. 14 against the Redondo Beach Wharf Rats and Sept. 28 against the Long Beach Oilers.
“I hope we keep winning and get to play a playoff game, which would also be played at Harich Field,” Abarca said, adding, “This is a great team.”
The Crestline Highlanders are sponsored by the Crestline-Lake Gregory Chamber of Commerce but are also seeking additional sponsors. See their Facebook page Crestline Highlanders Vintage Base Ball for additional information.