The San Quentin baseball program was transported back to 1886 to close out its season. The Bay Area’s Vintage Baseball League transformed San Quentin’s Field of Dreams with old-time uniforms and baseball mitts resembling gardening gloves.
San Quentin A’s players were rotated in with the various Vintage League team members for two exhibition games. All the rules of the game and team mascots from that earlier time were implemented.
“We feel obligated to share the Vintage League with others,” said Brian “Specs” W., of the San Francisco Pelicans. “We’re here to recruit for our league.”
The first game was between the Pelicans and the San Francisco Eagles. The second game was an All-Star type game where players from the San Jose Dukes, the Dublin Aces and the Berkeley Clarions got in on the fun. The Hayward Journals, the Pacific’s and the Barbary Coasters were also represented.
Besides the difference in the gloves, the game is played with heavier bats, and the hardballs are softer because they are hand woven and not machine wound. There is no pitcher’s mound. The pitcher, who is called the hurler, stands in a chalked box.
The catcher is known as the “behind” and the umpires are called “sirs”. The sirs wore black suits and black top hats, making each umpire resemble a Monopoly game banker.
There were seven balls instead of the modern four for a walk. Three strikes are the same for a strikeout, but a foul ball is not considered a strike. If a player is hit by a pitch, it is just a ball, and the batter doesn’t advance to a base—also, no helmets for the batters.
“All the years I played baseball, I never thought about the history and how the game evolved,” said A’s Anthony Denard. “It was a different experience all the away around. I’m thinking about looking to playing in the league when I get out.”
The only modern equipment used are the cleats, which are painted black to stay in the character of the times. All the other items have to be specially made.
“Playing in the old shoes is too dangerous,” said Will Lyons, Eagle’s coach. “Coming here has been very informative – with everything going on in society, we are trying to find things to bring people together.
“We definitely are coming back if the guys are interested,” added Lyons.
In the re-creation of the 1886 league on the Lower Yard, the men in blue learned terms like “outs” are called “hands” and fans are known as “cranks”. The game is only seven innings. Most games are high scoring due to catching hard-balls with mitts the size of race car driving gloves. The batters also have to wield a 40-45 ounce heavy bat. The Major Leagues now use bats between 32-38 ounces, explained Lyons.
“Our league is a lot like the guys here – it’s a gentlemen’s game,” said Pelican’s “Fish” Benz. “It’s very supportive. It’s not about arguments or being macho. If someone shows too much aggression, they are asked to leave the league.”
“Pop” Altieri of the Pelicans added, “It’s important to learn about the school- to-prison pipeline. A person who did something 30 years ago is not the same person.
“That’s why we wanted to support this program. Baseball teaches life; it teaches you to play within the rules and be a part of something bigger than yourself,” continued Altieri.
As the Oct. 27 game ended, the prisoners were treated to the final 1886 tradition. All the players went to the chalked box and removed their hats to the crowd and yelled “Hazzah” (hooray) to the right and “Hazzah” to the left. Then a “Hazzah” is given to the sirs.
“This experience I won’t forget for the rest of my life,” said Carl Gibbs, the games head sir. “The guys were great. I drove by this place a thousand times, and I never thought about the men. Now I had the chance to see into their lives.”