By RHEA-FRANCES TETLEY
In a hard-played game at Harich Field in Twin Peaks on Saturday afternoon, Oct. 14, the Crestline Highlanders Vintage Base Ball team defeated the Fullerton Fire Knockers with over 100 spectators in attendance for the championship title of the Southern California Vintage Base Ball League.
The bleachers were filled on both sides, as the Fullerton team brought a good-sized cheering section of Cranks, aka fans, along with those Highlander Cranks sitting on left field, beyond the foul lines, enjoying the warm and almost breezeless mountain afternoon, after a unique solar eclipse that morning.
Both teams were excited about the matchup. The Highlanders were defending their championship position, which they secured last year when they had to defeat the Arrowhead Loggers to win the league championship. For the last four years, the championship games have been played at Harich Field in Twin Peaks, because the Highlanders have been in all four of those championship games. The first two seasons they lost to the Riverside Smudgepots in the championship games.
Playing by traditional 1886 rules is slightly different than current day baseball. They play under nicknames they have earned from their actions during the season. In this championship game both teams were very serious about winning, but must play by the old rules, which include no cussing, respect for the top hat-wearing “Sir” (umpire), wearing old style uniforms and using 1886 replica equipment, including using gloves not mitts, a heavy wooden bat and using the same hand-sewn ball all game long (until it gets lost in the forest). Traditionally, the Sirs were well-respected judges in the community, so their opinions were honored and never questioned.
The game is played with a fast, overhand style of pitching. When the Hurler (pitcher) gets tired, another player from the field may switch places with him. The Striker (batter) is allowed seven balls before he is walked, although “three strikes and you’re out” is still the standard. They play for seven innings.
The striker gets to request the type of ball he wants thrown, such as a high or low ball within the strike zone. There is no “pitcher’s mound,” just a box drawn in the dirt where the hurler should stand, and the Sir stands beside him so he can see the whole field and how the ball goes over home plate. Some of those old-time rules include that foul balls aren’t strikes and getting hit by a pitch counts only as a ball.
Under the 1886 rules, it is a respectful game, played politely and vigorously with arguing with the Sir prohibited. The game is played seriously but politely.
Because the Smudgepot’s “The Designer” made the championship trophy, he was at the game to present the trophy to the winner of the championship game on Saturday. He stated the game was hard fought and was proud to present the trophy to the Highlanders. This last year, the championship trophy was on display in the Crestline Chamber of Commerce office and the team hopes it gets to be displayed there again this year, after each team member has the opportunity to show it off to family and friends.
The Fire Knockers’ hurler, Knuckles, who joined the Fullerton Club in 2020, commented, “Their hurler was good and their bats were hot today.” Smokey from Fullerton stated, “We lost to a good team; they know how to play together, and our defense was sloppy today, plus we just couldn’t make the plays. They just kept catching the balls. But ya’ know, this is our first year in the playoffs and second place is to be respected.”
The Designer added, “They were evenly matched teams, but Crestline has been on a winning streak, beating several team records. They had a six-game winning streak in the playoffs and have won their last nine games, with three home runs by Slider, a record in the finals.”
The Highlanders’ Slider said, “We had amazing hitters today.” “It was what is called a ‘true win,’” said “Ripper,” the Highlanders’ manager, “where the Hurler pitches less runs than he solo produces. Slider allowed no runs and hit two home runs. He has an ERA of .005.”
The Sir, Darren, said, “Home runs win games.” There were four in this game. The first two were in the first inning, and with men on base so, at the end of the first inning, the Highlanders were winning with a score of 4-0. Another home run was hit in the fourth inning, and another in the fifth inning, each time with men on base. Plus, they scored in six of the seven innings.
Each ball is specially handmade for this vintage-style game and costs $12. So, when they are hit out of the park at Harich Field, they get lost in the forest and most are not found; it can get expensive to play Vintage Base Ball with the reproduction equipment. Harich Field is known in the league as the “home run hitting field,” as it is the smallest ballpark used in the league. Rim Rec just added a netting over the top of the backstop which stopped many pop-up fly balls from sailing over the back stop and across the street and down into the forest.
The final score of 11 for the Highlanders and zero for the Fullerton Fire Knockers doesn’t really describe how exciting the game was, as there were lots of hits and men on base from both teams. However, Crestline was able to get the men on base home to score. One fly ball was also caught for an out, which is unusual since their gloves are not big, just hand sized and not padded very much.
Several years ago, the Highlanders team was getting so large they split into two teams, creating the Arrowhead Loggers, against whom they played for the championship last year. The Highlanders are sponsored by the Rim Rec and Park District and the Crestline Chamber of Commerce. At the end of the game, Ripper thanked the Cranks for attending and supporting them in this run to the So Cal Vintage Base Ball championship.
Since the Highlanders are now the Southern California Vintage Base Ball champions, for the first time the SoCal champs will play the Northern California champs from Berkeley at San Luis Obispo on Nov. 4 for the California Gold Cup championship. Wish them well.