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The Rochester Roosters are bringing back vintage ‘base ball’


In Rochester, Minn., a vintage baseball team is playing the game like it's 1860. Minnesota Public Radio's Catharine Richert explains.

CATHARINE RICHERT, BYLINE: On a cool May evening, the Rochester Roosters are scattered across a field, pitching, catching and batting...


RICHERT: ...But this game looks different.

MIKE OLSON: I mean, we play bare-handed.

RICHERT: That's team manager and player Mike Olson. Bare-handed because this is vintage ball - no mitts allowed. The Roosters are among a handful of teams in southern Minnesota that play every summer, following rules and customs more than 150 years old. The roots of vintage baseball go back to around the time of the Civil War, says team umpire Mark Bilderback.

MARK BILDERBACK: And it became a social activity for the different groups to play.

RICHERT: It's just practice, but Bilderback, a former Rochester City Council member, is dressed to the nines - a black paisley vest, a top hat.

OLSON: Back in the 1860s, depending on the height of the hat was whether you were a Democrat or Republican.

RICHERT: Bilderback's is neither short nor tall.


BILDERBACK: It's an independent hat.


RICHERT: Dressing the part is part of being on the team. No helmets - just caps, bow ties and bibs, pants, and long-sleeve shirts for the players. And there are a lot of other rules that might seem foreign to today's baseball fans, says player Tracey Gohmann.

TRACEY GOHMANN: Not over-running first base is another thing that is kind of interesting. You've got to slam on the brakes and stop on the base.

RICHERT: Ball's caught after the first bounce? The batter's out - and there's a level of decorum that Olson says you don't see in modern-day baseball.

OLSON: Today's baseball games have instant replay, the super slo-mo, and people are always on the umpires about bad calls and things - and ideally, here, we're supposed to call ourselves out if we're out, and obviously, when the competitive juices get flowing, that can be tricky.

RICHERT: So what's the umpire for? There's a reason Bilderback's team nickname is Sir Fines A Lot - he'll charge fans and players alike 25 cents.

BILDERBACK: If you misbehave, in my opinion.

RICHERT: So if someone's coming to watch you guys play, they'd better bring some loose change. Is that what you're saying?

BILDERBACK: If they want to give me a bad time.


RICHERT: Those nicknames are customary, too. Player Greg Kraus goes by Cooper.

GREG KRAUS: A cooper was somebody who made barrels in the 1860s, and I happen to be a woodworker, so I thought it fit pretty well.

RICHERT: Cooper - I mean, Kraus - says that in the team's nearly three decades, they've had a lot of highs and lows. Teammates have died, babies have been born. The constant has been the camaraderie and community built on the field under the hot, summer sun - a lot like family, he says.

KRAUS: I came from a giant family, and it was something to do after we milk cows. And my cousins would come up and it was just a game that brought us together, and that's the spirit that I wanted to bring back.

RICHERT: The Roosters' season is already off to a good start - they've won their first game against the Apple Jacks, a team from nearby La Crescent. For NPR News, I'm Catharine Richert in Rochester, Minn.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Catharine Richert
[Copyright 2024 MPR News]