Vintage Ballplayers Take Baseball Back in Time

On any summer weekend, thousands of baseball games are played across America. But few sound like this:

"Striker to the line," the umpire says. "How would you like your pitches?"

"Low, please, sir," the batter responds.

This is vintage baseball -- the kind Abner Doubleday, baseball's purported inventor, may have imagined.

Ball Seven -- Take Your Base

One hundred and fifty years ago, batters could pick their strike zone, and addressed the umpire as "sir." There were three strikes and three outs to be sure. But it took seven balls to get a walk. The bases were filled with sawdust. And the fashions were a tad different, too.

"There won't be anybody out here with wristwatches, earrings, sunglasses," said Steve "Cappy" Gazay, manager of the San Jose Dukes.

Perhaps because of that and other differences, vintage baseball seems to be catching on now, with about 200 teams in 28 states. It is catching on even though vintage bats are heavier and harder to swing. And then there are the gloves -- small and so thin they can turn routine plays into painful adventures.

"The ball never quits stinging," says Kevin "Big Stick" Cooper of the South County Jaspers.

Batting helmets? Forget about it. And if you get hit by a pitch, it counts as a ball, not a free trip to first base.

"You had to be pretty tough to play this game, I'm thinking," says Gary "Pops" Cooper, manager of the South County Jaspers.

Tough, but friendly, neighborly, as shown on one close play in a game between the Jaspers and the Dukes.

"To me, it looked like he had his hand on the bag," the umpire said.

"What was your opinion, Gary?" Gazay asked the opposing manager.

"I thought he tagged him, but I couldn't see where his hand was," "Pops" Cooper said. "So I don't really know for sure."

The Mailman, The Milkman, The Carpenter

Honesty and modesty may not be such a big part of baseball today, but vintage ballplayers don't even have numbers on their backs. Instead, they all have nicknames.

For instance, Jaspers player Mike Ballen's nickname is "the professor."

It's "the professor because I teach at the university and because I'm one of the smarter guys on the team," he says.

Ballen, at 56, also was the oldest guy playing as the Jaspers beat the Dukes 15-10, in a game where anybody who wanted to could play.

Other games attract even older players. It's been 40 years since Jim Bouton pitched for the New York Yankees. But last year, at age 65, he made a brief comeback in a nationally televised vintage baseball game he helped organize in Pittsfield, Mass.

Bouton sees vintage baseball as more than a step back in time.

"It goes back to the old concept of town teams -- your guys: the mailman, the milkman, you know, the carpenter, the plumber," Bouton says. "The popularity of vintage baseball will thrive on the backlash against the corporate, over-hyped, over-sold Major League Baseball."

Jaspers manager "Pops" Cooper agrees.

"Nobody is going to pay us $1 million to play," he says. "But we play because we love to play the game."

ABC News' Peter K. Imber and Dean Reynolds originally reported this story for "World News Tonight" on Aug. 21, 2005.

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