By RHEA-FRANCES TETLEY
The Crestline Highlanders Vintage Base Ball Club will play their first home game of the 2021 season on Harich Field in Twin Peaks on Saturday, July 24 against the Vintage Base Ball League champions, the Riverside Smudge Pots. The Smudge Pots received that title in 2019 when they won the championship game against the previously undefeated Crestline Highlanders.
The game begins at 12 noon. They invite all who are interested in seeing base ball played in its purest form, in a family setting, to come out and watch these free base ball games. Harich Field is at 675 Grandview Road in Twin Peaks.
The Riverside Smudge Pots was the only team the Highlanders lost a game to last season, in the final championship game. “Although this will be a good gentlemen’s game, we will play our best as we need a redemption W (win),” said The Ripper.
The newest vintage base ball team in the league is the Arrowhead Loggers, which will also play on Harich field this summer.
The base ball game is played following 1886 rules with lots of characters reflected in the nicknames of the players. This is the second year of the Vintage Base Ball League playing in Southern California. The vintage sports league has been active in Northern California for many years. The 1886 rules allow for over-hand pitching, several trick plays and is a respectful game, played politely, but vigorously. Each team brings their own umpire, called “The Sir,” because, traditionally, in the 1880s the umpires were judges in the community, well-respected and their opinions were honored.
Using the 1886 rules, teams use replica equipment, including little gloves, (not mitts). The rules allow seven balls before a walk is called and foul balls are not counted as strikes. These teams wear old-style uniforms made out of wool. The wooden bat is five ounces heavier than today’s traditional bat. The ball is a little larger and gets softer as the game progresses since they only use one ball for the whole game, unless it gets lost. Lost balls are a real situation at Harich Field as, when the ball gets hit foul over the fences, the ball often rolls down into the forest and sometimes is not found.
Some of the rules that a modern player would be surprised by are that the batsman (batter) gets to request where he wants the ball thrown, such as a high or low, within the strike zone. There is no pitcher’s mound, just a box drawn in the dirt where the hurler (pitcher) stands and there are only seven innings per game. The hurler doesn’t wind up and must pitch very quickly after he gets the ball from the catcher, so the game passes very quickly. Players change playing positions during the game as all players play every inning. When the hurler gets tired, another player just exchanges positions with him.
The organizer and former baseball commissioner for the Southern California League was Crestline resident Wes “Commish” Abarca, who is known as the artist for several of the murals painted on the mountain from Running Springs to Crestline. “In vintage base ball, the team with the least number of errors usually wins,” said Highlander Abarca.
Vintage base ball is played respectfully and seriously by men who love the history of baseball. These games have been compared to a historical re-enactment of an earlier period of time, since they use period costumes, equipment, mannerisms and rules. Sportsmanship is paramount in vintage base ball and cursing is forbidden. All the players have nicknames, which they earn from their performance or personality, adding to the fun of the game. The spectators are respectfully called “Cranks.”
The returning Highlander players are Joe “Ripper” Billheimer, Jim “Ace” Starick, Chris “Stix” Dodd and Wes “Commish” Abarca. The new members filling out the 15-member roster are Lefty, Glovebox, Preach, Foghorn, Blade, Twinkletoes, Sauce, Mutt, Paws and Nick Roberts, who hasn’t earned his nickname yet.
They lost one of their members to the new Arrowhead Loggers team. They hope their previous Cranks come back out to watch them this Saturday at Harich Field and many new ones discover this family-friendly, fun activity. “We need as many Cranks to come to the game as possible,” said The Ripper, who is the new team manager, “since the Smudge Pots always brings a large Crank gallery with them when they come up here from Riverside.
“On Saturday, July 24, we want to make it right for our hometown Cranks and give them something to remember. The loss of the last game of the season against the Smudge Pots has not been forgotten by us, even after this long delay between games.”
There are now 10 teams in the Southern California Vintage Baseball League, this year adding five new teams: the Arrowhead Loggers, Perris Prospectors, Temecula Dear Bros., (La Verne’s) Lordsburg Trolleymen and the Fullerton Fire Knockers.
One of the former members of the Highlanders is the Arrowhead Logger’s team captain. The first local game for the Arrowhead Loggers will be Aug. 14 at 12:00 p.m. against the Redondo Beach Wharf Rats at Harich Field, followed the next week, Aug. 21 at 1 p.m. against the Riverside Smudge Pots, also at Harich Field.
Since both local teams will be playing their home games at Harich Field during the summer, be sure to check their Facebook pages for upcoming games. These two local teams will be facing each other at Harich Field on Oct. 2 at 1 p.m. They are hoping to have overflowing crowds of Cranks for that game.