LaHarpe’s ‘Field of Dreams’

A vintage baseball team from Emporia takes the field on Saturday during the LaHarpe Day celebration. Don't be surprised if the game looks a little different. The 1860s-era baseball rules vary quite a bit from modern games.

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June 23, 2022 - 1:51 PM

A group of players wear vintage 1860s-style uniforms during a recent baseball exhibition, similar to one planned for Saturday in LaHarpe. Courtesy photo

“The one constant through all the years … has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time.”

— James Earl Jones, “Field of Dreams”

Angela Anderson isn’t certain why baseball, compared to other sports, has been so tied to America’s history.

“I don’t know if it’s a tradition, or for the matter that it’s passed down from generation to generation,” Anderson said. “I grew up and we had baseball either on TV or on the radio. My dad would talk about baseball, and how it’s a thinking man’s game. It’s a game of strategy. You always need to be thinking three steps ahead.”

Anderson’s family is doing its part to help keep baseball’s passions alive, in particular the game’s 19th century roots.

She is the general manager of the Emporia Howe House Griffins, a team that specializes in 1860s-era baseball.

The Griffins are one of several such vintage squads in the state. They’ll play each other on occasion, or in Saturday’s case in LaHarpe, they’ll perform a baseball exhibition with a team of local players, the centerpiece of the upcoming LaHarpe Day Celebration.

The Griffins will take on a squad of local players at 3 p.m. at LaHarpe’s City Park. Admission is free.

While much of the game nowadays has remained unchanged in the 160 or so years since the sport took hold as America’s pastime, there are some significant differences, Anderson noted.

For one thing, fielders do not wear gloves, and a batter is out if a fielder can catch the ball after a single bounce.

Oh, and there’s no such thing as walks. Balls do not count, nor do hit batters, although the hurler is obligated to offer a kind-hearted apology and a tip of the cap if one of his pitches plunks an opposing striker. (The 1860s rules refer to pitchers and hitters as hurlers and strikers, respectively.)

The bats and balls used in the 1860s are significantly different than those utilized by baseball players today. Courtesy photo

Conversely, batters can wait for their desired pitch before offering a swing. Most pitches are either straight down the middle at the “desired” height, she noted.

“There are some definite strategic differences,” Anderson continued. “Typically, hitters just want to crank the ball out as far as they can. But if you have a good fielding team on the other side, the strategy may be to try to hit the ball on the ground first.”

Sliding is prohibited, too, as are base runners taking leads off of bases before the ball is pitched.

Even the balls and bats are different from those used today, mirroring the styles used in the 19th century.

“The main difference between 1860s rules and present-day rules is that the 1860s rules encourage the game to be a ‘gentleman’s game,’” Anderson said. 

And don’t forget the nicknames. Players were encouraged to have nicknames bestowed upon them, if they haven’t already given themselves a unique moniker by the time the players are introduced.

“One that immediately comes to mind will be Arnie ‘Whiskers’ Anderson,” she laughed.

ANDERSON, a self-admitted history buff, is active in the Lyon County Historical Society and a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

It was about 10 years ago she and her family caught a vintage-style game, and they immediately were hooked.

The Emporia Howe House Griffins compete in a recent 1860s-era vintage baseball game. Courtesy photo

“It just fascinated me,” she said. “The former general manager talked my son and husband into playing, and down the line, my family became more involved.”

Anderson joined the Lyon County Historical Society’s board of directors and eventually accepted the role of the Griffins’ general manager.

When matched up against other “official” teams, the games are more competitive, she noted, although none of the players will likely ever be called up for a tryout for the Royals.

“When the Emporia teams first started, the majority of players were history enthusiasts, nearing retirement age, who just have a passion for playing,” she said. “As the years have gone by, our average age is lower, but it’s still a mixed group. None of them play for college teams. They just enjoy America’s pastime. I’d guess a lot of these guys used to play in high school. I think a couple of players still play on some co-ed teams.”

She envisioned Saturday’s matchup in LaHarpe to be of the exhibition variety instead.

“A lot depends on the skill level of the opponent,” Anderson said.

However, she imagines the competitive spirit will come through during Saturday’s game. It is still baseball, after all.

THE GAME is the part of a packed schedule Saturday in LaHarpe.

The fun begins  in the park with a color run starting at 8 o’clock at the park, with participants either running a 5K route or walking a shorter 3K course, with all being doused with powdered paint along the way.

Bounce houses will be set up from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., with a cute baby contest set for 9:30 a.m, and Kiwanis train rides at 10.

The parade goes from City Hall to Main Street, north to Sixth and west to the park at 11 o’clock.

A talent show is set for 1:30 p.m., followed by the vintage baseball at 3.

Food and craft vendors will be set up from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and the LaHarpe Volunteer Fire Department will douse anyone wishing to cool off with water at 11:45 a.m. and 1:45 and 2:45 p.m.

The day wraps up Saturday evening with a community dance at the LaHarpe Veterans of Foreign Wars post.

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