by Marlys Kruger
COLFAX — As part of the Colfax Sesquicentennial, the Menomonie Blue Caps vintage baseball team will play a game here Friday evening at 6:00 p.m against some local past players and coaches. The current Blue Caps team was established in 2012, 71 years after the original Blue Caps dissolved.
The new team was formed to educate the community about the origins of our national pastime as part of the Playing Through: African American Baseball in Dunn County, WI exhibit. The Blue Caps are fashioned after the team who were a highly successful amateur club from 1882-1941 and are members of the Vintage Base Ball Association. The original team was one of the first in Dunn County to draw large crowds at all of their games. While they were not the earliest established team, they were by far one of the most successful. In 1882, the Blue Caps were challenged to play the Eau Claire Crescents and the game resulted in being the first game recorded in Blue Caps history, which they won 16-0, netting a purse of $25.
For the next 60 years, the Blue Caps continued to play a high level of baseball and played against teams from all over the country, earning the nickname the “Invincible Blue Caps”. By the time the 1940s rolled around, the team, like most of the others, were losing players to World War II. The Blue Caps played their last official game in 1941 before turning the team over to the Menomonie Eagles which is still playing.
For those of you who plan on attending the game, you may want to familiarize yourself with the rules from the 1860s which will be used. Uniforms for the Blue Caps consist of a long sleeved white shirt with a collar but white T shirts will be allowed for the local team. Long dark pants are usually worn, also. Gloves are not used in the field since the ball is softer than a normal baseball.
There is no bunting, sliding into base, no leading off base, no stealing of bases, no betting on the game, no swearing and a gentleman never sweats during the game. (Let’s hope it’s not too hot and humid outside so they can comply with this rule!) The pitcher is called the “hurler” and he pitches underhand nicely so the batter or “striker” can hit the ball. Fouls don’t count as strikes and there are no walks. The catcher, or “behind” stands 25 feet behind home plate and doesn’t wear any protection. An out can be recorded when a fielder catches the ball in the air OR on one bounce, and a runner can be tagged with the ball and forced out at a base, just like current rules. Base runners may be doubled off base on a foul ball that is first returned to the pitcher.
A run is called an “ace” and whoever scores the run must report it to the scorekeeper or “tally keeper”. It is a custom to have the one who scores ring a tally bell to let the fans called “throng” or “cranks” know an ace occurred. An out is referred to as “dead” and “three hands dead” means a half an inning is done. An inexperienced player is referred to as a “muffin” while a proficient player is an “artist” and the manager or coach is called the “bench’.
But the most important rule to remember is, since this is a gentleman’s game, the umpire, (called Sir Fines A. Lot) has the right to fine any player OR any cranks for swearing, disagreeing with a call, any uniform violation or any general unsportsmanlike behavior. Players and cranks are advised to bring quarters with to pay a fine. (I don’t expect to see many fines among our quiet and respectful players and spectators of Colfax!)
It should be a fun and informative evening at the ball park, which in this case will probably be the vacant field at the Colfax Fairgrounds due to problems from the tornado which went through a few weeks ago. Look for signs around the village and come on out to cheer for the local muffins and artists!