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DuPage County Plowboys bring 19th century 'Base Ball' to Cantigny Park

Members of the Plowboys baseball team sit on the sidelines during their game against Aurora Town Club Saturday, July 13.
Members of the Plowboys baseball team sit on the sidelines during their game against Aurora Town Club Saturday, July 13.

A man behind home plate wearing a top hat, underhanded "hurling" and on-the-spot fines for ungentlemanly behavior don't exactly equate to the rules of today's baseball games. Or even your grandfather's baseball games.

But all that and more occurs when the DuPage County Plowboys take the field in Wheaton's Cantigny Park. The team hosted the Northern Illinois Vintage Tournament in conjunction with McCormick Museum with eight other clubs July 13. Teams such as the Plowboys, Chicago Salmon, the Aurora Town Club and the Rockford Forest Cities all play under the 1858 rules for 'Base Ball.'

Plowboys manager Alan "Cracker Jack" Baldwin said that he got involved in the game in 2005. His son saw an ad in the paper and suggested they try it out.

"It's really great. It helps keep the game alive and historical," he said. "It's a lot of fun for us players and for all our cranks."

Cranks, of course, is the 1850's term for fans.

Baldwin said that all the players on the Plowboys played baseball at some point in their lives, but many were looking for something a little different.

"I think most of us just became a little jaded until we found out we could play like this," he said. "It's a great way to experience baseball as a player, it's a very gentlemanly game."

On rosters for each team at the tournament, every player has a nickname, ranging from a simple "Mac" to "Sharkbait," "Warpig," "Balding," "Twinkle Toes" and "Medicine Man."

Longtime Plowboy Antonio Bellino decided on his nickname, "Jackrabbit," as an update to his childhood name of "Rabbit."

"You have to have a nickname, or the other team or someone else will come up with one for you," he said with a laugh. "It's best to just come up with your own."

Bellino has been on the team since 2004. He said that he enjoyed that the competition was far friendlier than what he found in other softball leagues.

The players commit to the 1850's feel of the game, something he, as a former Civil War reenactor and history buff, loved. They even make their own authentic uniforms.

"I do still cringe a little at the people who go out there with sunglasses," he said.

Baldwin says that since the move to Cantigny a few years ago, more fans have started showing up – as many as a few hundred. The umpire, or "arbiter," serves as a master of ceremonies, translating some of the unfamiliar aspects of the game to cranks and engaging them with showmanship.

"Sometimes if one umpire knows a player well, they'll get into a big fake fight," he said. "The umpire will fine the player 10 bits for having his sleeves rolled up or something."

Then, after each game, the players get together to eat a meal, Bellino said. It is that bond, he said, that keeps many coming back.

"Year after year, you get to know the people, joke around," he said. "It's just a good bunch of guys who get together and play baseball and have some fun. I played pick-up games with neighborhood friends in the park when I was a kid and this is about the closest you can get to that."

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