By Chris Chaney
America’s past time has always been baseball, but this year — and for the first time in Clermont County — fans can take a trip back in time some 150 years to see how the game was played when it endeared itself to a burgeoning nation.
The Moscow Monarchs are a vintage base ball (two words) team headquartered in the town off of Route 52 in Washington Township.
In their first season, the Monarchs are not only trying to pay homage to the roots of the game, but to help a tight-knit community become known for more than a nearby power plant or the tornado that ripped through the area two years ago.
“Vintage base ball in Cincinnati has been around for about 15 or 20 years,” Mark Bailey, the Monarchs’ second baseman who goes by the nickname “Marvel,” said. “Joel (Knueven, the team’s founder) went to a Cooperstown Hall of Fame induction and there was a vintage game being played there. He was really intrigued and wondered if anyone was doing it around Cincinnati. And if so, maybe he could get something together for Moscow.”
Knueven came back and researched vintage base ball in Cincinnati and found that there were already a handful of teams participating in a 1860s-style of the game.
“After the tornado hit in ‘12, (Knueven) was inspired to do something to put Moscow on the map in a positive light and gain some exposure for the community,” Bailey explained. “He thought putting this team together would bring some positive energy to the town.”
Now, midway through their first year, the Monarchs are working to rebuild the town’s image by hosting games at Prospect Field, a tuft of grass behind the Moscow Community Building. The team is encouraging anyone and everyone interested in history, baseball or the history of baseball to come out to a game and soak up the atmosphere.
The Monarchs, along with the teams on their schedule, step into a different time period entirely to compete. Players don the age-appropriate apparel and use 1860s-style equipment, including a lemon peel ball and period accurate bats.
“Pitching is underhand, so the game is really based on defense because pretty much anyone can hit an underhand pitch,” Bailey said. “The ball is about the same size as the modern-day baseball, but a little softer. It’s one piece of leather stitched together.
“We don’t use gloves out in the field and that’s the one thing that everything is blown away by. And it hurts when the ball is coming at you. “
Just like there are variations in the rules, the men who make up the team are similarly eclectic. Ages range from 18 to 75 and real-world professions range from Proctor & Gamble employees to doctors, school teachers and construction workers. However, the one constant in the 1860s brand of base ball is something current baseball purists fear has been lost in the modern game: etiquette.
“It’s a gentleman’s game,” Bailey explained. “The one thing that we really stress — and every team we play stresses — is a real gentlemanly atmosphere. We congratulate our opponents as much as we do each other. If the other team is rounding the bases or scores a run, we tell them that it was a great hit. They respond kindly with a ‘thank you, sir.’
“It’s a reenactment in a way, but we’re still playing. It’s not overly competitive, but every one likes to win, but if you lose you’re still out there to have fun and show the fans what base ball was like in the 1860s.”
As such, the players are doing this as much for themselves as they are for their fans. Bailey said he was introduced to the style of play by happenstance, driving home and seeing a game being played that looked like normal baseball, but with a different scene.
He said that given the quirks, historical accuracy and the high-scoring nature of the contests, even those who don’t necessarily like the low-scoring type of baseball they seen in the professional ranks today, they will be entertained by this style of play.
An offensive-favored rule set allows for much more scoring than a typical game of modern baseball and as such, brings excitement and manners to the ball field.
The Monarchs still have six games remaining this summer with their next contest taking place on July 27 at Prospect Field against the Dayton Clod Busters.
To keep up to date with all the Monarchs are doing, including game times and special appearances, log on to their Facebook page, facebook.com/moscowmonarchs, and follow them on Twitter, @Moscow_Monarchs.