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Cornfest to feature Vintage Base Ball

Josh Freeman of the Fort Verde Excelsiors pitches. On Saturday the Excelsiors will host the Prescott Champions in a Vintage Base Ball game at Fort Verde at 10 a.m. (Photo by Bill Helm)

Josh Freeman of the Fort Verde Excelsiors pitches. On Saturday the Excelsiors will host the Prescott Champions in a Vintage Base Ball game at Fort Verde at 10 a.m. (Photo by Bill Helm)

There are few things more American than corn and baseball and on Saturday they’ll come together once again at Cornfest in Camp Verde.

On Saturday at 10 a.m., the hometown Fort Verde Excelsiors will host the Prescott Champions in a Vintage Base Ball game at Fort Verde in Camp Verde. The game will be played according to rules of the game from around the time that Fort Verde opened in 1870.

Vintage Base Ball at Cornfest has become a recent tradition.

“For that and Fort Verde Days it gives visitors a chance to see what Vintage Base Ball is all about and get a little bit of history,” said Excelsiors co-captain Brian Lane. “I’m not sure how many people realize that the soldiers back here in 1871 were playing baseball, where they’d actually even commute over to Jerome and play them at times.”

The Excelsiors started with games at Cornfest and Fort Verde Days but joined the Arizona Territories Vintage Base Ball League last year.

Vintage Base Ball and Fort Verde go well together as the soldiers stationed there played the game.

“It was just part of the routine for them to recreate playing baseball among other things of course, card playing and heavy drinking probably (laughs),” said Lane, who is also assistant park manager at Fort Verde. “They used to play all kinds of jokes on each other, all the soldiers did. This is one of the more constructive things that they would do (laughs), compared to a lot of the destructive things that they would do back then (laughs).”

Lane said they get around 20 spectators watching the whole game as well as people passing through as they tour the fort and ask questions.

The ball they used then is softer than the modern baseball and players did not use gloves.

Players can catch the ball on the first bounce and it’s still an out and spectators even can catch a foul ball to get a batter or striker as they were then known, out.

“We had a woman on Fort Verde Days, she was pushing a carriage down the sidewalk right next to the parade ground where we play here and a fluke ball bounced over the fence and she just reached up and caught it on that first bounce and we’re like ‘oh you’re out!’” Lane said. “And then we tried to draft her of course to play, it was a pretty good catch, but she said ‘nah I can’t do it.’ So it is interesting when you see that, spectators just walking by and catches a foul ball on the bounce and ‘op, the batter’s out’ (laughs) so they can get involved, which is something you can’t really do in modern baseball nowadays (laughs).”

Entrance fees to Fort Verde State Historic Park are $7 for ages 14 and up, $5 for ages 7–13 and free for 6 and under.

For more information about Fort Verde State Historic Park, call (928) 567-3275 or visit http://azstateparks.com/Parks/FOVE.

The Excelsiors, which mostly get their players from Camp Verde and Cottonwood, have seen their numbers grow since they joined the league and had a more regular games. The other ATVBBL teams are the Bisbee Bees, the Bisbee Black Sox, the Glendale Gophers, the Tucson Saguaros and the Phoenix Senators.

Lane said the Excelsiors are always looking for more players, to just come by the fort or call to say that they’re interested.

Excelsiors have gotten away from some authenticity, changing out the wool pants to more Arizona summer friendly attire.

“We’re starting to get away from that,” Lane said. “We’ve had some new trousers made up. The old trousers were wool (laughs) and the shirts were a thick cotton, so now the trousers are cotton and the shirts will be a little lighter cotton than before but as far as the style and design, they’re fairly authentic for that period. We’re starting to modernize the material finally, thank god (laughs).”

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