A League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Fort Verde looks to join vintage baseball league

VVN/Jon Pelletier<br>
This year the Glendale Gophers will return to Fort Verde to play the Fort Verde Excelsiors in a game of vintage baseball, as part of the Fort Verde Days celebration. The Gophers are members of the Arizona Vintage Baseball League, which would love to expand to Northern Arizona.

VVN/Jon Pelletier<br> This year the Glendale Gophers will return to Fort Verde to play the Fort Verde Excelsiors in a game of vintage baseball, as part of the Fort Verde Days celebration. The Gophers are members of the Arizona Vintage Baseball League, which would love to expand to Northern Arizona.

CAMP VERDE - Before Ty Cobb realized that sharp spikes would intimidate an opposing fielder.

Before Billy Martin turned kicking dirt on umpires into an art form.

And before Lou Pinella gave a new meaning to base stealing -- base ball, as it used to be spelled, was a gentleman's game.

Manners were not only encouraged, they were celebrated. And good sportsmanship was as valuable a commodity as good batsmanship.

There are, however, a cadre of players who still believe America's pastime should retain a gentlemanly level of dignity. They have seen enough of the sport's seamy side.

They have taken their slightly oversize baseball, their slightly heavier bats and their aversion to spitting and scratching in public, and headed off to a slightly smaller diamond to practice what they preach.

They are members of the Arizona Vintage Baseball League.

The rules they play by were laid down in 1860. They dress in period uniforms. And perhaps most importantly, they play for only one reason - fun.

The league currently has seven teams playing a winter schedule in the Phoenix Area. They also play exhibition games throughout, usually against whatever sort of team a local community can field.

Every year for the last few years, one of the teams, the Glendale Gophers, has come to Camp Verde during Fort Verde Days to play whatever local talent comes out and dons the uniforms of the Fort Verde Excelsiors.

The game has become as much a part of the yearly celebration as the morning parade.

Recently, the president of the Arizona Vintage Baseball League got the idea to expand the sport to Northern Arizona.

His name is Lance Busch, and he is coming to Fort Verde this Saturday to teach anyone interested how the game was played.

He is also coming to see if there is any interest in making the Excelsiors something more than a once or twice a year phenomenon.

"We have some interest from groups in Payson, Williams, Flagstaff and Prescott. I would love to see the Excelsiors be a part of it," Busch says.

The sport is open to all. There are no limitations on gender or age.

"That is one of the things most dear to me. Girls get to play. The youngest player is 12. The oldest is closing in on 75," he says.

A student of history, Busch says that it is his intention to revive a tradition that was once statewide.

"We have found documents of baseball games played in Arizona as early as 1863," Busch says. "By the 1880s and well past the turn of the century, community teams from throughout Arizona competed. We want to bring that back."

If you are interested in bringing back a piece of Arizona history, or at least learning what the game evolved from, come out to the Fort Verde parade grounds at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Sept 25, and get a taste of what the game was like when people played it just for fun.

"We have found documents of baseball games played in Arizona as early as 1863. By the 1880s and well past the turn of the century, community teams from throughout Arizona competed. We want to bring that back."

--Lance Busch

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