Playing baseball “the way it was meant to be played,” the Dayton Clodbusters team is up and running for another season once again, playing by 1860 rules and mostly just having fun together.
John Fritz of Springfield has said he was basically “coerced”into playing in 2006 for the Clodbusters while living in Fairborn. “I’d first heard about vintage base ball (this was typically the spelling prior to the 1880s) while living in Akron and was urged by my girlfriend at the time to play,” he said. “But I didn’t do it then.”
Once Fritz started playing for the Clodbusters he said everything escalated quickly to “30-40 games a summer. I kicked myself for not getting involved sooner,” he said. “Now that I’m playing I’m seeing all these guys I knew from baseball long ago.”
Fritz said he has been playing softball and Little League most of his life, but playing with the Clodbusters brought him into the Vintage Base Ball Association (VBBA), which includes up to 200 teams across the country. “We keep to 1860 rules mostly,” Fritz said. “Though some teams will stick to different years.”
Rules from the year 1860 were chosen because the next major rule change happened in 1865. “This was the longest time we believe when base ball was being played with consistent rules,” Fritz said.
These rules include the use of no gloves, a batter taking as many pitches as he sees fit and a runner being put out if he overruns first base.
“In 1865 they switched to what was called a ‘fly game,’ and they started wearing gloves by the 1870s,” Fritz said.
Fritz said that everyone who shows for a game with the Clodbusters will get a chance to play. “We will rotate everyone in, so though there are supposed to be nine on the field, if 15 show up, no one will sit on the bench,” he said.
The Clodbuster team represents the farmer teams of the 1860s. “We are the guys who would be out in the field working and at the end of the day it would be a time for them to socialize and to play base ball,” Fritz said. “One of the neat things about our team is that we are based on farmers and we even dress like farmers of the time.”
It’s important to Fritz and many of his team mates to dress the part so they wear handmade muslin shirts, brown pants, suspenders and caps. “Some of us played at Carriage Hill Farm years ago and a seamstress there made our shirts and hats,” Fritz said. “We can get our pants from Amish trade stores. I even spend hours ripping the white stripes and logos off my black cleats. It’s not a rule, but we just want to be as accurate as possible.”
Fritz now spend most Sundays during his summer playing vintage base ball with the Clodbusters, hanging out either at Carillon Park in Dayton or travelling to play against other vintage base ball teams, with names like the Tippecanoe Canal Jumpers, the Cincinnati Buckeyes and the Moscow Monarchs.
“The best part about this is you get to teach people what the game is really like,” Fritz said. “Everyone is so into it, and it’s very family oriented. We try to encourage our players, when they are not on the field, to take a bat and ball and walk up to the spectators and talk to them and answer any questions they might have.”
Fritz said this is exactly how the team has grown over the years and both men and women have joined. “There is also a women’s Clodbuster team,” he said. “The important thing is to get the bat in your hand and give it a try.”
The team uses a slightly larger and softer ball and the bats are straighter. “There was no weight limit for the bats then,” Fritz said. “We use ash and maple, and we actually get vintage bats from a company that makes them as authentic as possible.”
Fritz said he has learned more about the history of the game and why it has changed so much since he has started playing for the Clodbusters. “I think a lot of people are interested in watching us play because they like seeing the game the way it used to be,” he said. “There really isn’t a place that we won’t play. We don’t spit and we don’t curse. And you’ll even see us stop and applaud when someone from the other team makes an amazing play.”
The Dayton Clodbusters are 2013 “Heart of Vintage Base Ball” Tournament winners. This year’s tournament will be held on July 13 at Coney Island in Cincinnati.