“Foul ball!” cried umpire Ian “Traveller” Tinney on Saturday morning from home plate at the vintage baseball game on the snowy grounds of Old Fort Hays.
“Foul ball!” Repeated one player after another on the field, shouting to get the word to the outfield.
“That’s what you have to do to hear, especially with this wind out here today,” said Post Nine player Gavin Schumacher, standing at the makeshift dugout at the fort, on the U.S. Highway 183 Bypass.
The morning’s 24 mile-per-hour winds and a damp, dreary, overcast sky made 38 degrees feel like a frigid 25.
Despite that, the two vintage baseball teams, one from Hays and one from Colorado, fielded a dozen players each in rowdy good spirits for a doubleheader played with a vintage baseball and according to the rules of 1867.
“Oh my God,” said Tanner Willhoft, Hays, watching his Post Nine teammates on the field. “He just dove for the ball and missed it.”
Willhoft as a teen played for the Hays High Indians, and recently joined the roster of the Post Nine.
“It’s fun, it’s really different,” he said. “No gloves, that’s the big thing, you feel kind of naked out there. Not having a glove makes it harder.”
“Ooohhh!” groaned players in the dugout as a shortstop with bare hands stopped a batted ball hurling between second and third base.
Watching the game play, Leroy Riedel is a member of the Society of the Friends who support the Fort’s activities. The Society bought the Post Nine uniforms more than a year ago, and this is the team’s second game.
“It’s colder than we like today,” said Riedel, whose wife, Linda, has five nephews on the team, including Ryan Gottschalk, who once played for Thomas More Prep-Marian High School, Hays. “If that sun comes out, it would be great. These guys love the game, because it’s so different. For one thing, there are no mitts, and a lot of the rules are a lot different.”
From home plate, the crack of the bat on the ball sent Post Nine’s Gottschalk, unofficial team captain, to first base.
The team’s grey shirt, blue pants and red hat are identical to the team the fort fielded back in the 1860s, Riedel said. Picking up a baseball, he explains, “It’s stitched different, and it’s a softer ball.”
Is the bat vintage?
“It’s supposed to be, but we’re pretty lose on it,” Riedel says, explaining players can choose from a modern bat, or one of the usable replicas from Old Dutch Classic Bats. “It’s a relaxed game, you’re not out to kill.”
Nevertheless, Riedel explains, nodding to umpire “Traveller” Tinney. “He’s dressed as a marshal, the reason being, back then there were a lot of fights,” Riedel said. “So he umpired the game and he settled the fights.”
“Foul tip, you’re dead,” cried Tinney, sending a batter to the dugout. Dressed in period costume as a frontier marshal, Tinney explains that traditionally the umpire was a respected individual from the community, such as the local marshal or a judge.
Tinney, from Berthoud, Colo., is wearing an officer’s long great coat and a black cavalry hat with gold tassels.
“I have a gun, it’s loaded with blanks, and I regularly shoot people,” he said.
He also has to clearly understand the rules. For example, in 1864, the game was played with the one-bounce rule. Any batted ball played off one bounce could still be caught for an out.
“1865 is when they changed that,” Tinney said. “They said it wasn’t manly to catch it on the bounce, you had to catch it on the fly.”
Kale Wann, Hays, who played as a teen for Russell High School, is still learning the rules. When the umpire calls “No hands!” that means no outs, while “two hands” means the tally sits at two outs.
“I just got told that this morning,” Wann said. “It’s a lot to remember, that’s for sure.”
Next game for the Post Nine will be Memorial Day weekend in Topeka.
Their next home game will probably be a tripleheader in September with teams from Wichita and Emporia.
“We’re new to it,” said Gottschalk. “Other teams play more. For us it’s a side hobby.”
Others on the Fort Hays Nine Post team, besides Gottschalk, Schumacher, Willhoft and Wann, include: Justin Gottschalk, Luke Ruder, Jordan Gottschalk, Dylan Schumacher, Jarrett Sanders, Ryan Post and Lance Geyer.