How Can I Start A Club?
Vintage Base Ball typically goes in many different directions. One can see everything from casual groups playing games for family and friends to big public events at open-air museums. Within a museum public program, there's typically a staff member who recruits, trains and organizes volunteer players for the institution. Some clubs will form a relationship with another group. Yet other clubs will be independent entities.
Open-Air Museum Programs
These open-air museums often explore themes such as the appearance of paid players, the increasing amount of time devoted to pastimes, the importance of the town's base ball club in the community, how unmarried ladies attended the games, etc. Participating in an open-air museum program has its perks such as well-made uniforms, added attention to correct equipment reproductions, a permanent playing field and a full summer schedule of games in front of big museum crowds. Most museums also outfit more than one uniformed club. Clubs at open-air museums generally do not travel as much as their non-museum counterparts.
Another common arrangement is for clubs to have a relationship with some other group, such as an historical society, SABR chapter or county park. Because they are a stand-alone program, these clubs usually have some autonomy not found at the larger open-air museums. The resources offered by the park, historical society or SABR chapter make it easier to recruit, raise funds, etc.
Independent clubs are usually in it "all-for-fun" and because they do it all themselves. This allows complete freedom. For most of these clubs, the old rules are the focus. They don't expect to teach visitors or impress with perfect uniforms, they exist to play the game the way it was meant to be played. In spirit and form, they re-create the amateur town clubs of the mid-to-late 19th century.
More and more vintage clubs model themselves after an actual club of the period that played in their area. This has lots of advantages: historical interest, ideas about uniforms, etc. But most clubs represent non-descript clubs that almost every town and city in America supported. Keep in mind, some vintage clubs choose to portray an amateur club while others pick a post-1868 professional club. This is a choice not to be taken lightly. As far as rules and customs go, you have the VBBA to help you there. The amount of research you need to do is left to your discretion.
Players & Non-players
Obviously, you will need at least nine to play. Realistically, you should have 12-15 committed players. Do not forget that a fully staffed club also has umpires and scorekeepers. Some even have costumed interpreters that answer questions in the crowd. However, these sideline interpreter positions are usually not needed right away if you plan to play established clubs.
Where to Play
Most clubs are affiliated with a historical park or village or just a regular recreational park. This gives the club a home base (pun intended) and presumably a field to play on. We recommend a regular grass field (don't worry about the odd tree--that adds character to the field), but vintage clubs have been known to play on conventional baseball diamonds and even modern stadiums.
Equipment and Uniforms
The good news is that you don't need gloves (unless you're playing a post-1870s variant). Bats, balls, uniforms, outfits, and other items can be made or (better yet) purchased from vendors specializing in vintage base ball equipment. You may want to have a look at this Equipment Checklist.
Who to Play
Naturally, you will play other vintage clubs. Membership in the VBBA is critical here to make the necessary connections. Matches are usually negotiated between club captains or contacts before the season begins. Many clubs also play matches against a group of local players, usually at a town festival or other exhibition. These matches can be very fun as the players and spectators are new to the game and rules. Festival organizers often pay clubs to play which can go a long way toward offsetting the cost of equipment.
Frequency of Play
How often you play is basically up to you. Keep in mind, that the VBBA requires each club to play six matches against other VBBA clubs each year to qualify for full membership. The average club plays 10 to 20 matches. Some play 60 or more. Travel will ultimately determine the number of matches your club will play. Clubs tend to be spread out. This is one of the perks of the hobby since you will get to see amazing parts of the country and talk with some fine people. If you want clubs to come and visit you, then you'll have to make an effort to visit them as well.
Help from the VBBA
There are many established clubs with enthusiasts who are more than happy to help you get started with your own club. The annual convention is another place to meet people who are part of the large network. You can always contact us if you have any questions.
Welcome to Vintage Base Ball. Huzzah! Photos by Dean Thilgen