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Vintage Baseball Makes Living History

The Milwaukee Grays play without gloves and with 19th-century rules at Doctors Park.

If you stroll through on a Sunday afternoon, kids are playing Frisbee and families are having picnics, but you might be surprised to see a handful of men sporting vintage baseball uniforms and playing without gloves.

Fox Point's Doctors Park is home to the vintage “base ball” team, the Milwaukee Grays. The Grays play with an 1860s set of rules and wear replicas of the original uniforms worn during the National League in 1878. They are one of only two vintage baseball teams in Milwaukee; the other is the Milwaukee Cream Cities.

It's a mixed bag of ages on this team, ranging from a student in high school to men in their 60s.  Each player is also given a nickname, like they had in the 19th century. 

Bill "T-Bone" House is a vintage player and manager of the Delton Base Ball Club, who faced off against the Grays a few weeks ago. House says he plays in remembrance of his grandfather.

“My grandfather passed away when I was 11. He was a vintage baseball player, and playing helps me keep his legacy alive," he said.

But it's not just history that fuels the players' passion for baseball, it's also the connection. John “Big John” Mueller, 58, enjoys playing vintage baseball with the Grays because he can connect with the younger generation.

“It's fun to be able to play with the young guys," Mueller said.  “Whenever they get on base, I get to joke with them how I used to be able to run like that.  It's a game that brings people together.” 

David  “Smokey” Ornstein, a 34-year-old Milwaukee firefighter, founded the Grays and put in a lot of his own money to get the club started. Even though they’re not paid to play, it’s the drive to honor the history of the game and a basic love for baseball that binds these men together.

“Once you try it out, you get hooked,” Dave "Night Owl" Heller.  “It's also that I love baseball, and I love history. When I play, it is like living history.”

Baseball has evolved over the years, but the Milwaukee Grays play with the 150-year-old rules. However, there’s plenty of help for those who are not familiar with the classic rules. In between innings, Ted “Old Dog” Mueller takes time to explain the rules to the fans. 

The interaction between the players and the fans makes vintage baseball a different experience than going to Miller Park.

The fans can also take part in the game as well.  There are no umpires to call the game.  If there is a close call and the teams can't agree, they will ask the fans what they think.

“The fans are great,” Heller said. “It's a blast to play in front of them. Everyone gets cheered and no one gets booed.  There are home teams, but everybody is treated fairly and with respect."

Milwaukee Grays May 19, 2011 at 05:02 PM
We play Sunday, May 22 at 1 p.m. at Doctors Park. Come on out and see base ball the way it used to be played! Check www.milwaukeegrays.com/schedule.html for a schedule of our other games.

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