MENOMONIE – The Menomonie Blue Caps vintage base ball club begin their first full base ball season and return many of the lovable characters from the inaugural team.
The Blue Caps open the season with two matches Saturday, May 18 in La Crescent, Minn., to take on the La Crescent Apple Jacks as well a Twin Cities Club Nine. The Blue Caps open the home season, Saturday, June 1 when they will have a doubleheader match with the Rochester Roosters beginning at noon at the River Heights Elementary School fields.
Sponsored by the Dunn County Historical Society, the Blue Caps take America’s pastime back to its origins, using base ball (that’s base ball, two words) rules from the early 1860s.
With Dunn County Historical Society executive director Matt “Kerosene” Carter at the helm as team manager, the Blue Caps are looking forward to their second season of competition.
“Last year was the first year the Menomonie Blue Caps played base ball (or baseball) since World War II,” Carter said. “The Historical Society decided to use vintage base ball as another opportunity to educate the community on the history of the game, which was done in conjunction with a baseball exhibit last year. The original Blue Caps were established in 1882 and played until 1942 when they merged with the Menomonie Eagles, whose name can still be seen today.”
The Blue Caps joined the Vintage Base Ball Association, which held their annual convention in Rochester, Minn., in March. The event was attended by Carter and Wade “Bones” Lambrigtsen, of the Blue Caps and a number of other ballists from across the country.
“It was amazing to see the reach vintage base ball has. Ballists, male and female, from across the country participated in the event. Players from Ohio, New York, Michigan and Minnesota were all present at the convention,” Carter said.
The Blue Caps return Lambrigtsen, Bryan “Silver Fox” Paur, Pat “Pick” Thibado, Will “the Watchman” Carlson and Layne “Ace” Pitt, the only hurler (pitcher) to toss the orb in competition last season for Menomonie.
With a greatly expanded schedule from two games last year, the Blue Caps will have to find additional hurlers, as well as fielders and strikers (batters), among both the returners and the newcomers. New to the Blue Caps this year are Todd “Noddy” Ebensperger, Colin Marklowitz, Dustyn “Mad Dog” Dubuque, Gerado Licon, Eric Engeman, Mike “Kuch” Kurschner and Nick Freitag. Also new to the team this year are umpires Bob “Barrister” Rogers and Joe Pieters.
The basic premise of the game has not changed since the 1860s, Carter said, and the rules are quite similar. The field is the same, 90-foot bases, but the pitcher’s mound – there is no mound, just a line – is from 45 feet, not 60-feet 6-inches as today. The batter’s box consists of an object for home plate and a line that the striker must straddle before the hurler releases the ball.
The ball, which is slightly larger than today’s baseball and considerably softer, is hurled underhand. The early version of base ball was considered a gentleman’s game and the object of the hurler was to allow the striker to strike the ball for the fielders to field. Hurlers were encouraged to give the striker something to hit and there are no balls or strikes called. However, strikers are encouraged to hit well-placed tosses. It is not uncommon in vintage base ball to see players from both teams congratulate each other for a well-struck ball or an outstanding defensive play.
The most noticeable difference is the match is played without the use of gloves. A fly ball can be caught on one bound to make the striker dead (an out), or can be caught on the fly. A ball struck in fair territory that rolls into foul territory is still considered a fair ball. After players score an ace (a run), they must report to the tallykeeper (scorekeeper) and ring the bell for the ace to count.
There is no leading off base by the base runners. Fielders must hold their position until the ball is struck. Base fielders can be no more than one step from the sack (base). The behind (catcher) generally lines up approximately 6 to 10-feet behind home plate.
There is considerable interaction with the cranks (fans), as players and the umpire will explain the rules of play throughout the game. The umpire can also levy fines to both players and cranks for a wide range of incidents. A fine is generally two-bits (25 cents) and is in place to encourage gentlemanly behavior amongst both the fans and players. This includes no yelling at the umpire, arguing calls, swearing or spitting on the field.
Last season, the Blue Caps borrowed uniforms from the Rochester Roosters, a team that has a 15-year history and provided many valuable lessons about vintage base ball. For the 2013 season, the Blue Caps have their own 1860s-era uniforms, complete with a shield bearing an old English styled M and a newly designed cap. The uniform is a cross between the first Blue Caps uniform from the 1880s and a redesigned version in 1905.
The Blue Caps Nine are still seeking players who have an interest in learning more about the history of America’s pastime. Age is not an issue. The Blue Caps have had players ranging from age 15 to more than 60 years old.
“There is no age or gender requirement for ballists,” Carter said. “With a full season, we are always looking for new members to join the team. Our current roster is made up of players from around Dunn County and hope to keep adding from the surrounding communities as word of the Blue Caps continues to spread.
Corporate sponsors for the Menomonie Blue Caps are: the Dunn County Historical Society, Visit Eau Claire, Vintage Sign Shop, WEAU-TV 13 News, Lammer’s Food Fest, Bill’s Distributing, and the Vintage Base Ball Factory.
For more information about becoming a player or a sponsor of the Menomonie Blue Caps, contact Matt Carter at: 715-232-8685, or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find the Menomonie Blue Caps online at www.dunnhistory.org/bluecaps/, or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/MenomonieBlueCaps.