I recently asked a few folks -- from Shimer and beyond - to offer guest blogs here at Evocations. This one comes from David Shiner, a key member of Shimer's "team" -- a faculty member -- who is linked to the Chicago Salmon, mentioned below, as "hurler" and center fielder. David has also written on baseball in more formal ways, including his book Baseball's Greatest Players as well as reviews in Nine: A Journal of Baseball and Culture. For a video of David discussing baseball, click here. And, likely David can explain to us all how the world of Shimer definitely, most definitely, links to baseball. And, not just because we are currently located near Sox field. And, not just because, I have always wondered what position folks like Nietzsche would play. But because. . . .
For local fans of major league baseball, this is the summer of our discontent. The Cubs are hardly any better than in 2012, when they lost over 100 games. The White Sox are even worse. Both teams have made more news off the diamond – that is, by dealing away their highest-paid players – than on it. Given those conditions, fans might be inclined to give up on baseball, at least for the rest of this year.
That would be unfortunate. There’s a lot of baseball to watch in the Chicagoland area, and a lot of fun to be had doing it.
Let’s start with the pros. The Crestwood-based Windy City Thunderbolts ply their wares in the independent Frontier League. Check out their schedule, then head down to their handsome ballpark at 140th and Kenton. If you’re lucky they’ll be leading by a run or two late in the game, which will give you a chance to witness Michael Click in action. Click, the ‘Bolts closer (and, like me, a Temple University alum), is dominating the Frontier League and should be headed for a higher level of ball next season. Other Frontier League clubs in the Chicagoland area are the Schaumberg Boomers (formerly the Flyers) and the Joliet Slammers (get it?). Independent minor league baseball is nonstop fun, and the caliber of play is higher than you might expect.
If you’d prefer to see a major league farm club in action, take a short spin west to Geneva (Illinois, not Switzerland). The hometown Kane County Cougars have sent a sizable number of players to the big leagues, including Miguel Cabrera, the 2012 American League MVP (that’s Most Valuable Player for the uninitiated). The Cougars are affiliated with the Cubs, so several members of their current roster are likely to land in Wrigley Field in the next few years. Be the first on your block to see those future stars in action.
If you’re not particular about the level of baseball you watch, head to one of the hundreds of diamonds in the city. You can catch a game on any Saturday or Sunday and on many evenings during the week. And that’s as it should be, since the legacy of the national game is as strong here as anywhere. The first recorded game in the Chicago area was played in the summer of 1851, less than two decades after the founding of the city and only a few years after the publication of the earliest rules of the game. The Union Base Ball (yes, two words) Club was organized in Chicago in 1856, and amateur leagues sprouted up around the city shortly thereafter.
Baseball – or, rather, base ball - was a bit different back then. Pitching was underhanded and slow, since the idea was to permit the batter (or “striker,” in the terminology of the day) to hit the ball. Fielders used their bare hands. That was possible because the ball was made of tightly-wound yarn, so it didn’t hurt (at least, not much) when it was caught. Batted balls that hit the ground in fair territory were considered in play. Talented strikers took advantage of that rule by using the bat to swat at the ball so that it landed in fair territory and then spun foul, which made it almost impossible for fielders to throw them out at first base. There was no stealing, sliding, spitting, or swearing. Base ball was a gentleman’s game, and there were almost as many regulations concerning gentlemanly behavior as about the game itself.
You might be thinking, “Gee, that sounds like fun. Too bad I can’t actually see that game being played.” Well, you can. It’s now called “vintage baseball,” and it takes place on the Chicago History Museum field at the corner of North Avenue and Clark Street on most weekends during the summer. The Museum field is the home of the local vintage base ball club, the Chicago Salmon, of which I’ve been a proud member for many years.
Vintage baseball is the real deal, the game played by the Chicago Unions and their opponents in the days before the Civil War. The difference between then and now is that vintage ball has become the most inclusive type of baseball around. Young and old, black and white, male and female, highly skilled and modestly talented – everyone can play vintage base ball if they’re as devoted to good sportsmanship as to playing well.
And, what’s more, the Salmon have won more games than they’ve lost this season. That’s a record the Cubs and Sox can only envy.