Marcus Larson/News-Register##Shortstop Matt Newton goes low to field a ball during a vintage baseball game at the Yamhill Valley Heritage Center on Saturday. The game used the original rules for baseball, which differ with the modern rules in many respects.
Marcus Larson/News-Register##Shortstop Matt Newton goes low to field a ball during a vintage baseball game at the Yamhill Valley Heritage Center on Saturday. The game used the original rules for baseball, which differ with the modern rules in many respects.
By Robert Husseman • Sports Editor • 

Take me out to the base ball game

The field lay fallow, perfect for laying down some chalk lines, setting up some bases and marking a home plate. They were planning to engage in an exhibition of an athletic pursuit that had already gained great favor among East Coast gentlemen and was beginning to capture the imagination of their West Coast counterparts.

ALSO: Costumes add historical authenticity

In a re-enactment staged Saturday on the same field, conveniently situated next to Yamhill Valley Heritage Center, a dozen locals adopted the McMinnville Gristmillers moniker and declared themselves the home team. They borrowed official “base ball” uniforms from the West Linn Willamettes, a re-enactment team from suburban Portland, and committed to demonstrate their craft against the imaginary Vancouver Continentals.

“What the Historical Society has had going on all week long is, there’s a regional conference of the American Living History, Farm and Agricultural Museum organization,” explained member Dave “Stretch” Rucker, who served as the Gristmillers’ pitcher. “People from all over the West Coast came to little old McMinnville to see our heritage center and museum.

Marcus Larson/News-Register##Batter Ryan Michaelis strikes a ball deep to the outfield for a double.

“As part of that, they wanted to have a vintage baseball game to wrap up the whole event. And I said, ‘Hey, I want to get on that team. How do I get on that team?’ It’s got a lot of members from the Historical Society.”

“At the beginning, it followed the gentleman’s code,” said baseball historian Greg Garcia, a Franklin High School teacher invited to speak at the event. “You sent a representative of one team to a representative of the other team.”

For the re-enactment, the Gristmillers passed word that the Continentals had been delayed on their southward expedition by an outbreak of cattle rustling, leaving them without competition. So they invited local yokels, passersby and passers-through — even fair maidens and street urchins — to stand in.

The Gristmillers imported an “arbitrator,” Blaise “Freight Train” Lamphier, to call ball and strike, fair and foul, live ball and dead hand. Lamphier, a member of the Portland-based Pioneer Base Ball Club, claimed he had 15 years experience with the sport at the very highest levels. He promised to prove eminently fair and courteous, unswayed by offers of cash or locally distilled spirits in his decisionmaking.

They also lined up McMinnville resident Steve Fox to serve as announcer.

“Having an arbitrator and an announcer was great,” Rucker said. “It turned into really a great game.”

Of course, this “base ball” was a strange game in its formative days, featuring terminology unfamiliar today.

A “rover” patrolled the gap between second and third bases. Left, middle and right “scouts” patrolled the “garden” lying beyond the basepaths.

Touching all four bases in “live play” would result in an “ace,” at which point the runner scoring the ace was required to ring a bell once it had been acknowledged by the arbitrator.

"It's a form of cultural tourism. where you dress like it's the 1800s."

“That particular history is framed so well because the first game (in Oregon) was played in Salem in 1867, with the Town Nine against the Salem College Nine, which eventually evolved to become Willamette University,” Garcia said. “In 1867, there were no gloves. And if you caught a ball on the bounce, the batter was out – or, as they called him at the time, the striker.”

He said, “It’s very different, but it could be a whole lot more different. Baseball evolved; it wasn’t really ‘invented.’ In Massachusetts, a game ‘ran’ until 100 aces, which means, theoretically, it could last as much as five days.”

The re-enactment game had an ominous beginning when Rucker pitched the first ball to the first striker, fellow Historical Society member Cynthia Christenson, and struck the gentlewoman square in the face. The makeshift Continental fill-ins went on to tally two aces before Lamphier declared “three hands dead,” giving the Gristmillers their first turn at bat. And the game was officially “afoot.”

“Stretch” Rucker performed admirably in the eyes of the curious crowd. His underhanded tosses crossed the plate well within arms’ reach.

In the opinion of this esteemed publication, Rucker proved one of the finest hurlers in the county, if not the entire state.

“I didn’t know that anybody was doing this, really, until two months ago,” Rucker said. “I had no idea.

“Somebody said, ‘If you’re going to do this, go to Oregon Territory Vintage Base Ball online.’ I did and I went, ‘Wow.’ These guys are actually serious. It’s not dissimilar from Civil War re-enactments.”

The Gristmillers exacted revenge in a manner that would warm the heart of Mr. William T. Newby by notching 12 aces in the bottom of the first inning. They struck the ball hard and opportunistically, advancing merrily along the bases against the ragtag Continentals.

The crowd delighted in McMinnville rover Matt “Meal Ticket” Newton, who fell face-first while attempting to reach second on a “single hit.” While muddying his white uniform, he did manage to scamper safely back to “the first base.”

It was clear that the Gristmillers had studied their “base ball.’ The band of volunteers jocularly representing Vancouver proved no match, as McMinnville claimed Yamhill County’s inaugural re-enactment game 21 aces to 5.

“It’s a form of cultural tourism, where you dress like it’s the 1800s and you go to town and you stay at a hotel and go see a game,” said Garcia, who was recruited to assist the hapless Continentals. “You dress appropriately to the period.

“This was my first actual game, though I knew about it in the academic sense before. And I love this. I want to get my school involved in this, because this is too good to pass up. The attention to detail these people have while maintaining some humor is absolutely incredible.”

Will this sport really catch on locally? Color this publication skeptical, but perhaps the day will come.

Stranger things have happened. After all, Lafayette did lose its imperious grip on the county seat.