NAPPANEE – It happened back in 1858, and it happened again in 2016. The dreaded tie, which was an agreed-upon solution to base ball matches in the James Buchanan era, was also a modest solution in the Barack Obama era. A late rally by the Elkhart County Railroaders plated two runs in the top of the seventh inning to knot the score at 12, to which the match was called as the Nappanee Embracers could not respond Friday night.
The vintage base ball game, played in front of an estimated crowd of over 100 onlookers young and old on the outskirts of Nappanee, still brought joy to many interested in how the grand old game used to look.
“In 1858, 64-year-old pitchers also got tired throwing seven innings,” stated arbiter Hardly Ever Wrong, who gave grace to the Nappanee hurler Rugrat who threw the complete game, noting his day job and the hot sun also made the decision a final one.
Nappanee, playing in front of a very hospitable home fan base, took a surprising 9-3 lead on the seasoned Railroaders but saw that lead diminish to 12-10 after six innings. Elkhart plated two tallies in the top of the seventh and left the go-ahead run on base. Nappanee went down in order in the bottom half of the seventh, leaving a melancholy finish, but still an opportunity for the grand ol’ game to shine once again.
“This is really what it’s all about,” said Numbers, outfielder for the Railroaders. “We have a lot of fun playing and teaching the game. Great crowd, great camaraderie with the Nappanee team.”
The annual meeting between the two teams is one of many vintage base ball matches played in Nappanee. The Embracers play a modest schedule that includes the Railroaders match Friday as well as games at the Apple Festival in September. The Railroaders, comprised of ballists from all over northern Indiana, are also stationed for the time being in Nappanee, with its home matches played at West Side Park, just a rock skip from Friday night’s site. The Railroaders have one home match on the schedule this year, set for Aug. 21 against House of David Echoes.
Elkhart will also participate in the Apple Festival as well as the Pioneer Festival in Huntington a week later.
The Railroaders ball club is part of the Vintage Base Ball Association, which is a national organization that values competitive play, but also the teaching aspect of baseball’s roots. Much of Friday’s introductions by Mr. Ever Wrong was explaining ground rules, but also the differences in how base ball looked in 1858 to how baseball looks in 2016. Both teams introduced their rosters to the crowd and spoke before the match got underway, and from there, the play did much of the talking.
“What sets vintage base ball apart from watching professional baseball or even slow pitch softball is the uniqueness of the rules and how modified they are in today’s mindset,” said Scoop, infielder for the Railroaders. “Really, a lot of the game is the same, but the fun part is watching kids try to figure out some of the nuances. And ultimately, much of the goals from the clubs we play are all the same. We teach the game, we compete, and at the end of the day, there is a great respect for each other and the game.”