A Flossmoor Whistlestopper player prepares to throw as a Deep River player heads for third base during an old-timey baseball game Thursday, June 20, part of Flossmoor's centennial celebration. (Eric Crump/H-F Chronicle)
Feature, Local News, Sports

Huzzah! Vintage baseball a highlight of Flossmoor centennial

For a moment Thursday, Flossmoor residents experienced a taste of the sporting world of pre-Civil War America.

A vintage baseball game was part of the town’s centennial celebration Thursday, June 20. The Flossmoor Whistlestoppers and the Deep River Grinders from Hobart, Indiana, played a game under 1858 rules on the Bronco field at Flossmoor Park. 

“I think (this was successful) because of the number of young families in Flossmoor. Almost all of us have kids between the age of zero and 20,” Whistlestoppers captain David Wiegand said. “It’s a lot of local dads who want to relive their athletic youth but can’t quite do it as well, anymore, so we just have a good time coming out for something like this.” 

A Flossmoor Whistlestopper player prepares to throw as a Deep River player heads for third base during an old-timey baseball game Thursday, June 20, part of Flossmoor's centennial celebration. (Eric Crump/H-F Chronicle)
A Flossmoor Whistlestopper player prepares to throw as a Deep River player heads for third base during an old-timey baseball game Thursday, June 20, part of Flossmoor’s centennial celebration. (Eric Crump/H-F Chronicle)

Players donned slacks and button-up shirts with suspenders – the Whistlestoppers in white and the Grinders in blue. They played with a cross-stitched ball, unlike the modern one with saddle-shaped seams. Bats were heavier but thinner. Fielders didn’t wear gloves.

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Pitchers threw underhand and there were no balls or strikes called. The hitter, called the striker, was only out if he missed on three swings. Runners could be tagged out if off the base at any time. Batted balls could be caught on the bounce for a hand (not yet called an out) and there was no tagging up. If a ball was caught, runners just returned to the base where they began. 

“It’s hard, especially things like overrunning first base or the second basemen playing on the base,” Wiegand said. “There are a lot of little rules that are different that can really add up. It’s an adjustment, for sure.” 

The Grinders were founded in 1991. They play games each summer throughout the Midwest with a home field near Deep River Waterpark. They’re one of about 300 vintage baseball teams in the United States. 

The Whistlestoppers, though, were formed for Thursday’s game. They’re a group of Flossmoor residents, many of whom play softball together. Wiegand spearheaded a text thread over the last few months to fill the roster.  

The name is a reference to the Metra train station in town, which opened in 1856. 

“When I heard there was going to be an old-time baseball game here, I asked what was going on with it and nobody was stepping up to run it so I stepped up to put together a team,” Wiegand said. 

Wiegand was the only Whistlestopper with any vintage baseball experience. He played with his family growing up and then again after college with the Chicago Salmon, most recently about 10 years ago.

He was able to get some period-correct equipment from an uncle in Ohio. The team practiced just a few times.

The home team pulled off a 16-10 win in six innings before the game needed to end to make way for the drone show that was the climax of the centennial event. The score wasn’t the point, though. It was about the show.

Flossmoor players doff their caps and give a shout to celebrate their victory in an exhibition baseball game that followed 1858 rules and traditions in celebration of the village's 100th birthday. (Eric Crump/H-F Chronicle)
Flossmoor players doff their caps and give a shout to celebrate their victory in an exhibition baseball game that followed 1858 rules and traditions in celebration of the village’s 100th birthday. (Eric Crump/H-F Chronicle)

Grinders founder and the game’s umpire Jim Basala, dressed in a period-correct long jacket and top hat, emceed the game. He dished out gentle verbal jabs to players between offerings of insight into the historical game and its rules for the audience, referred to as “cranks” in the parlance of the time. 

Other Grinders walked into the stands to give people a closer look at the bats and balls. 

The Flossmoor Yellow Jackets, a trio of locals known for their commentary during the annual Hidden Gem half marathon race, added commentary and levity, as well.

“It was a great success. It was wonderful,” Wiegand said. “Everybody had a blast. I hope the cranks, the fans, enjoyed the show that we put on.” 

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