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vintage "base ball" story

Discussion in 'Writers' Workshop' started by JohnSahly, Jul 29, 2007.

  1. JohnSahly

    JohnSahly New Member

    Long-time lurker, first-time poster. I know this has already been published, but I was just wondering what your guys' thoughts were, where it could use improvement, etc. Thanks!

    Kicking like steers
    Geneva Rovers fall in unique brand of 'base ball'

    July 29, 2007
    By John Sahly Staff Writer

    GENEVA -- Dave Oberg personified the era.

    Dressed in a black derby hat, vest, gold and black tie against a white shirt, black pants, black dress shoes and a black overcoat, he had the perfect outfit to umpire a baseball game.

    And that was the point of Saturday's vintage baseball game at Geneva's Good Templar Park. Oberg, the executive director of the Geneva History Center, brought together Rockford's Midway Marauders and the debuting Geneva Rovers for a game played with 1850s rules and Victorian era dress codes. The original Geneva Rovers first played in 1867, with much different rules from today, and the term baseball was two words.

    Those rules meant when Midway scored a run with two outs in the bottom of the tenth inning in its 6-4 victory, the inning had to be completed.

    Some of the other odd rules included: The ball being pitched underhand, if a fielder catches a ball on the first bounce the batter is out, there are no strikes unless a batter swings and misses, there is also no sliding, stealing, bunting or leading off a base.

    "Getting used to the rules is probably the hardest part, especially that out-on-a-bounce rule," said Geneva resident and Rovers' catcher Gary Erickson.

    There is also no arguing among players or with the umpire. The umpire may stop the game to applaud a player making a particularly nice play and may also poll the audience to decide a dispute on a close call.

    "It's a gentlemanly game, especially in that era," Oberg said. "In fact, I'll have to ask the audience for permission today to take off my jacket and roll up my sleeves because it's so warm."

    One of the unwritten rules is that everyone on the team must have a nickname. Erickson's was 'Swede' because of his background. Others went by 'Speedy', 'Cannon', 'The Hammer' or 'Rusty'. Even Geneva Mayor Kevin Burns and Alderman Ray Pawlak got in on the nicknames, with Burns going by 'Mediocrity' and Pawlak "The Politician."

    But for Geneva's Jeremy 'Sticky Fingers' Meciej, his nickname didn't quite fit like the rest.

    In the first inning, Meciej stepped to the plate, announced his nickname to the crowd as it was the custom of the day, and took a few practice swings before swinging at his first pitch.

    Sticky Fingers then lost control of the bat and watched it fly over a few spectators heads.

    Oberg stopped the game and informed the crowd that a suggestion to change Meciej's nickname to 'Butterfingers' was denied.

    "I got the nickname because I think I'm pretty good at defense," Meciej said. "But I don't know what happened in my first at-bat. There was no real handle or knob on the bat. I'm just glad I didn't hit anybody."

    In Meciej's defense, he did live up to the name in the ninth inning by stopping a hard-hit grounder and throwing a Midway player out at first.

    The game itself was filled with odd quirks throughout.

    The home team was not determined by a team's geographic location, but by a footrace between a player from each team. Left-handed batters were called "wrong-siders." Outs were called "hands dead" and runs "aces."

    But perhaps the game's highlight came off the field, when Geneva player Sam 'Gramps' Hill got up from the bench, and began to recite an 1860s cheer to the crowd.

    "Mother may I slug the umpire?" Hill chanted. "Slug him right between the eyes?"

    Hill also legged out a single and reached on a fielder's choice, and enjoyed riling up the crowd.

    "I've always ridden on umpires," Hill said. "It's been a lot of fun."

    Oberg got into the act throughout the day, often to pause the game in order to explain a rule to the crowd or to encourage spectators to cheer in the language of the era.

    He even sang the seventh-inning stretch, which for the 1860s meant the Rovers fight song, set to the tune of the Battle Hymn of the Republic.

    Oberg got into the chorus before four Midway players carried him back, with Oberg still attempting to sing, to his rightful position behind the plate in a Vaudeville-type exit from the crowd. Three of Geneva's players did the same at the top of the ninth when Oberg, openly making an attempt to inspire both teams in a tied ballgame, tried to recite King Henry V's St. Crispin's Day Speech.

    "We thought today would be such a wonderful day to connect history to the community and bring some families out to see something they've never seen before," Oberg said. "We got a wonderful response from the community for this."
  2. Bullwinkle

    Bullwinkle Member

    Very neat story. Hated the lede, but awesome job and cool details!

    Wish I could add more, but I thought this was exceptional.
  3. TyWebb

    TyWebb Well-Known Member

    Love the idea for this story, but I think you buried what could have been a great lede. The details of the different rules was the most interesting part to me, and you could have set a great scene with that, using an example of the wacky rules to start the story, possibly about how even though the game was won in the bottom of the tenth, they had to complete the game.

    Including more details about how the players looked, what their uniforms looked like, how they fit, stuff like that, would have been interesting.

    Also, I found myself wanting to hear more about how and why this game was put together. This could have added some strong length and depth to the story.

    Overall, I think this is a good story that could have been turned great with a few more details and a better lead.
  4. jgmacg

    jgmacg Guest

    Hi John -

    First, thanks for posting with us. Happy to have you sharing your work here.

    I'm going to agree with Ty and Bullwinkle and suggest a rejiggered lede. Any featurette like this is an opportunity for a writer to have some fun, to stretch a little and to set aside some of the restrictive structural conventions of a straightforward news story.

    Features - especially shorter ones - generally benefit from plunging the reader right into the action of the story. So I'd suggest opening the piece "in scene," perhaps with Oberg singing, and being hauled back into the game by the players. Rather than bury that scene at the end, try opening with it. Then you could cycle back through the lede as it now stands.

    To make that strategy work, however, you've got to bring a little more detail to bear on your writing. It's not enough to say that he recited Shakespeare, or that his song was sung to the tune of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic." You've got to render the actual quotes rather than simply report that they happened. Otherwise the reader is experiencing the moment second-hand, and isn't being immersed in the experience. That's why the piece reads a little flat at the moment.

    Having said that, it's not just detail that makes a piece work, but rather apt detail, telling detail, necessary detail. I.e., in your lede as it stands now, I get an itemized list of what Oberg is wearing - but not a single clue as to what the man himself looks like. It renders the description kind of lifeless. All of which can be corrected by simply adding a line like, "With that bowler hat shading his wide and ruddy face, and his handlebar mustache perfectly waxed, Oberg personified that long-gone age of base-ball." Or something. Get in the habit of noticing faces and voices and gestures - the things that make people human, in other words, and start using those things to energize your descriptions.

    I think with a few small adjustments like those I describe, you can really enliven this piece, and the stories to come.

    Again, thanks for sharing your work with us. Hope to see more of it.
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