Baseball, history fans to come to gather for 19th century-style game
By JAMI KUNZER - firstname.lastname@example.org
Come to this baseball game, and you're likely to be called a kranklet, a rooter or a throng.
And you'll hear things, such as "Drop a duck egg on 'em" and "Go back to hackensack!"
This is baseball as it was in 1860. No gloves, a bigger baseball, outs when balls are caught on the first bounce, pitches thrown underhand, games on farm fields and no walks are among the differences between this game of long ago and today's baseball.
Above all, it was all about sportsmanship.
"It was a gentleman's game in the truest sense of the word," said Dave Oberg, the Grayslake Heritage Center executive director, who will umpire and emcee an upcoming Civil War-era game in McHenry County.
The McHenry County Historical Society, in partnership with the Grayslake Heritage Center, will stage the game at 2 p.m. June 21 at Village Hall Park in Prairie Grove. A group of what you could call reenactors, The McHenry County Independents (an actual team of that era), will play the Lake County Athletics.
As an away game, the Independents will take on the team again at 2 p.m. Aug. 23 in Grayslake.
The games, which turn into shows as Oberg teaches the audience how to cheer and jeer in proper 19th century fashion, grew out of a combined love of history and baseball.
"We're both running history museums, so it gives us a chance to tell a different kind of history and to do more than lecture, to really bring it to life," Oberg said of himself and Kurt Begalka, the McHenry County Historical Society's administrator.
"Everything has a history. Baseball is no exception, and baseball has a fascinating history," Oberg said.
Begalka decided to host a game for the first time in McHenry County last year after playing in a game in Lake County a couple of years ago. The upcoming match makes the event annual. Oberg has been involved with the historic games for at least 12 years, previously managing the Midway Marauders, another 19th century team.
It draws out families, either playing side-by-side or learning to cheer on the sidelines, he said.
"It's just absolutely a great time, really family-friendly," he said.
Competitiveness might seep in occasionally, but not much. In a past game, the only argument involved a close play at first base. The player who actually hit the ball thought he was out, while the first basemen on the opposing team disagreed and wanted to call him safe.
"Can you imagine that in a modern game?" Oberg asked.
A friend of Oberg's, Jim Saska of Woodstock, who goes by "Trainman" in the game, has played in Lake County for years and played last year in McHenry County, dressing along with his teammates in long-sleeved white button-down shirts, white caps, black pants and black socks and shoes.
His wife and daughter sometimes cheer him on as he usually pitches.
"I'm a huge baseball fan," Saska said. "Baseball is my number one sport. I really enjoy the history of the game. It was all different back then. … There are a lot of unique aspects about the game, and I love history, so that plays a role."
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