Vintage baseball is a hit
by David Tesitor
TRINIDAD — Roger “Digger’’ Hadix is not your typical baseball fan. He showed up at the Trinidad Triggers’ “Party Like an All Star” event on Saturday, July 7 and at the 2018 Pecos All Star game the following afternoon in his custom made vintage Trinidad Vampire baseball uniform, drawing stares from spectators, and an interview with the World Journal.
For the past 24 years, Hadix has played baseball with the Colorado Vintage Baseball Association’s 1882 Colorado Springs D&RG Reds. The Reds were sponsored by the narrow guage railroad company founded by General William Palmer, father of Colorado Springs. He says the game is equal parts sport, history lesson, and theater.
Hadix currently plays “behind” (catcher), named for his position behind home plate. Barely clearing 5’ 7”, he earned his moniker of Digger because he digs up a lot of dirt on his uniform, but hardly ever misses a play.
Part of the glamor of vintage baseball is that the Association researches details of uniforms, equipment, lexicon and lifestyles in an effort to represent the sporting life in Colorado more than a century ago. Since gloves had not yet been invented, the game was played bare-handed, and to accomodate bare-handed play, an out was called when a ball was caught on the first bounce.
The pitcher, sometimes called a hurler, used one of two distinctive styles; the loop or the straight across. If the striker (batter) walked, all walked, to “tally the ace.” This often resulted in typical scores of 25-5 or 17-2. If either were lefties, they were termed “portsiders”.
The nine-ballist teams also consisted of a short “scout” (stop), left-, mid-, and right scouts in the “outer garden”; and first second, and third base “tenders”. The game employed only one umpire, stationed along the third base line.
The field was 90’ to bases, although the dimensions varied, and home plate was, indeed, a white metal plate. In 1880’s play, everyone struck, and there was free substitution. The ball, slightly larger and softer than modern balls to accomodate barehanded play, sported a “lemon peel stitch, with the leather forming a cross with all points attached at one end.
If a ballist were dissatisfied with a call, he might offer a small sum to the umpire who had a “widows and orphans fund” to decide such situations. Early baseball was said to have “the best umpires money can buy”.
Although the ballists were expected to wear ties to each gentlemanly game, rampant drunkenness, gambling and suspected game-fixing led many newspapers to refused to cover early games.
Despite this blackout, the game continued to thrive. In 1876 Colorado became the 37th state and the National (Baseball) League was formed. In 1877, Denver Brownstockings become the state’s first semi-pro team. They played for eight years in the Colorado Base Ball League with the Colorado Springs Reds, Pueblo Pastimes and Leadville Blues, among many others. And in 1882 Colorado Springs built the state’s first permanent baseball stadium, capable of seating 1,000 cranks, or spectators.
In the CVBBA, teams that actually existed in the 1800’s are recreated according to the best documentation available, with gaps filled by reasonable deduction. Matches are played by rules representative of the earliest days of the game in Colorado, with a heavy emphasis on living history interpretation and ‘‘thespianism’’ to reflect the competitive spirit being tempered by Victorian ideals of gentlemanly and fair play.
The CVBBA is not only for ballists. A large number of civilian roles are utilized to carry off the full theater of a late 1800’s game. The umpire may tote a six-gun to maintain order and scare off the occasional coyote. The tally-keeper, reporters, politicians, society ladies, suffragists, abolitionists and a host of cranks (spectators) are fully integrated into the show, and encouraged to make their presence felt.
Hadix is a lover of the game in the truest sense. When he was in Cooperstown, PA several years ago, he saw a 160 year old ball played in the first paid admission game. He could hardly take his eyes off it. He has written his own book about the history of baseball in Colorado Springs up to the Sky Sox, Baseball in Colorado Springs: Images of Baseball. In an ironic juxtaposition, it can be purchased online.
Hadix came to Trinidad to see How We Play Ball, the baseball exhibit at the Trinidad History Museum Bloom Museum, to connected with Trigger general manager Kim Schultz, and to attend the 2018 Pecos League All Star Game. Along the way, he did what he loves most: teaching another generation about the early beginnings of America’s pastime.