The past comes alive
– Special to Wyandotte Warrior
As the Detroit Tigers struggle through yet another rebuilding season, a historical, more relaxed version of the same game they play can be seen right here in Wyandotte.
The Wyandotte Stars, the city’s own vintage base ball team, is getting ready for its big summer event, the Annual Home Classic, an all-day affair slated for Aug. 24 at Memorial Park, 20th Street and Ludington, featuring three other Michigan-based teams.
Affiliated with Wyandotte Museums —which will sell concessions at the classic and provide meals for the visiting teams — the Stars are described at wyandottemuseums.org as “a historic or vintage base ball (yes, that’s two words!) club that re-creates this early American pastime using the rules and customs of the 19th century.”
Their name is a tribute to the original Wyandotte Star Club, which was founded in the mid-19th century; their uniforms are reproductions of what teams wore and bear the “Y & •” logo then used by the city’s sports teams. The logo can be seen in archival images of organized teams in the museums’ collection, though none of those images feature the original Star Club.
A letter and scorecard chronicling the team’s 85-15 win(!) over the Monitor Club of Taylor dated Oct. 5, 1867, in the museums’ collection inspired officials to form the current version of the team, which began play Sept. 8, 2007.
Zac Holdren, a former Taylor Kennedy High School varsity player and the current club captain, has played in all of its games except for that first one.
“I’ve been around for everything but the first game; I was in the stands for that one.
They invited me to join the team, and I’ve been there ever since,” said Holdren, whose father, Brian, aka “Peanut,” is a teammate.
“My dad’s buddy said they were forming a team in Wyandotte,” said the younger Holdren. “I knew I had to play. I figured baseball was pretty much done for me, but then this popped up.”
As club captain, Holdren takes care of scheduling, lineups and on-field activities; he and his co-captains serve as liaisons with city officials and work with Jesse Rose, Wyandotte’s director of museums, to put on events like the Home Classic. Team members also take part in city activities like the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving parades, the annual Cemetery Walk in October.
Holdren has enjoyed the transition to a more leisurely pastime over the past 12 years. Vintage base ball rules allow players to catch a fly ball on the first bounce and still get a batter out. The rule comes in, uuuh, handy, he said, because vintage players don’t wear gloves. The vintage game features underhand pitching and purposely avoids play on modern gravel infields.
“We just find a good open field, throw down some bases and go from there,” he said.
“At the Home Classic, we’ll flip the infield and outfield so that we play amongst the elements like in the old days.”
Holdren likes that vintage base ball rules open the door for pretty much anyone to play.
“We welcome all comers 18 or older, and there’s no upper age limit,” he said, “Which is great, because we have a 70-year-old who’s hitting better than I ever could.”
Veterans aren’t the only ones carrying the load offensively. New centerfielder Patrick Gagnon, 18, “really puts the bat on the ball,” Holdren said. “Even if he hits it on the ground, he’s a tough out.”
Unlike Major League Baseball, which now opens even in cold-weather cities in late March and ends in early November, the Stars and other vintage teams in Michigan start play in mid-May and end sometime in September. They’ve gone from just one or two games annually to playing 20 to 25 games a year at places like Greenfield Village (which has its own team) and other selected sites, depending on the number of opposing teams, which can fluctuate year to year.
Michigan has the most teams playing the vintage game, and there’s been talk of forming a league with teams from Ohio and Indiana. The current Stars team boasts a 16-man roster for most games. All players bat and take a turn in the field.
“It’s a little large, but you want as many as you can to show up,” Holdren said. Also unlike the statistic-happy modern major leagues, he and other vintage teams’ skippers stick to counting wins and losses, runs batted in and runs scored.
He believes he and his mates have their priorities straight.
“We take most holidays off,” he said. “Most of us are friends off the field and we do a lot of things together outside of base ball. I really enjoy the camaraderie.”
Even with the friendlier, more relaxed attitude, vintage players still bring a competitive edge.
“Yeah, we have some guys who dive for balls and slide headfirst,” Holdren said. (Both moves are technically prohibited by vintage base ball rules, as are spitting and swearing.) “We all try our best. It is what is, and we’re just having fun.
“It’s different than watching guys who get paid to play the game. These are guys who love the game of base ball and where it came from and want to display it in a unique way.
“Not everyone is an all-star, but when you have nine guys with no gloves and a pitcher throwing underhand, you all want to get that batter out.”
Although the vintage game rules are different, Holdren said it shares at least one common element with the modern game.
“Our game appeals to history buffs and those who want to learn more about it, so we try to play before as many groups as possible,” he said. “But no matter the setting, there’s nothing like playing a base ball game in front of a crowd with people cheering you on. It does mean a lot.”