O'Fallon Progress

Vintage base ball highlights Illinois Bicentennial events at O’Fallon Park

The Belleville Stags Base Ball Club plays approximately 40 to 45 games by the rules of 1860 each summer.
The Belleville Stags Base Ball Club plays approximately 40 to 45 games by the rules of 1860 each summer.

The St. Clair County Historical Society, in celebration of the Illinois Bicentennial, wants to take residents back to what life was like on the prairie during the 19th century.

On Saturday, Aug. 25, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., O’Fallon Community Park and the Katy Cavins Community Center will the backdrop for vintage events aimed at creating an immersive interaction with sport, culture and industry of the day. Included will be an encampment of Civil War re-enactors from the 17th Missouri Co. G and Sons of Union Veterans. The Millstadt Historical Society will invite visitors to try their hand at 19th century farm chores, while the Artisan Guild of Southern Ilinois demonstrates old-fashion craft skills from weaving and spinning.

Inside the Cavins Center, more than 20 local historical organizations will put Illinois history on display.

The highlight of the event will be a double-header of 19th century base ball games between the Belleville Stags and Springfield Long Nine base ball clubs. The introduction of teams begins at 1 p.m. near the Grange cabin.

Base ball — yes, it’s two words — is an early ancestor of the modern game. The teams will play by the rules written for 1860.

Among other differences to the modern game, players do not wear gloves (though they still play with a hard ball), the pitcher is just 45 feet away from home plate but throws underhanded, and an out can be registered by catching a batted ball on the first bounce (though base runners still have to “tag up” to advance on a ball caught on the fly).

The Belleville club derives its name, the Stags, from the city’s beer brewing heritage. In 1860, there were a dozen operating breweries in Belleville, including that familiar local brand currently brewed in Wisconsin. Belleville also once was home to a class D minor league team affiliated with the St. Louis Browns and, for one season, the New York Yankees.

The Springfield club takes its name, the Long Nine, from the group of Illinois legislators who lobbied to have the state capital moved from Vandalia. Each of those nine gentlemen, which included Abraham Lincoln, stood over 6-feet tall, making them veritable giants for the time.

Both clubs play approximately 40 to 45 games per year in a season that lasts from early April through late October or early November. The Stags play home matches at the Belleville-Swansea Moose Lodge 1221, adjacent to the Swansea Metro Link light rail station.

Spectators — who were known as “cranks” in 19th century terminology— are encouraged to approach the ball players on the bench with questions or to examine the equipment being used.

Base ball rules of the day defined a game as a nine inning (or “round”) affair, but permit a gentlemen’s agreement between captains of the Stags and Long Nine to play two matches of seven innings each.