What is it about baseball that can make our spirits soar or drop us to the depths of despair? Long before there were stadiums and astronomical salaries, there was baseball in its purest form – bare knuckle baseball played with no mitts (they hadn’t been invented yet) in an open field with few rules, one umpire or arbiter and a true love of the game. You can see a game like those played in the 1850s on Sunday, July 8 from 1 to 4 p.m. at Naper Settlement when The Chicago Salmon play The DuPage County Plowboys in a Vintage Base Ball Exhibition Game.
“We are trying to create what baseball was like in Chicago before the Civil War,” said Gary “The Professor” Schiappacasse, who has been a member of The Chicago Salmon for over a decade.
Each player has a nickname and the retired elementary school teacher’s moniker is “The Professor.” His son, Tim “Neutral,” who is an assistant baseball coach in real life, also plays on the team. During the game, pre-Civil War rules are used and if there is a disagreement with the lone umpire, the teams get together and rule on the play. Gary said it was a “gentleman’s game” back then and still is today. The players also involve the audience in the good-natured fun during the exhibition game.
More than 150 years ago, it was called base ball because the words hadn’t been connected yet; the actual baseball was a 9 ½-inch lemon peel style ball; the bats were a little thicker in the handles; and everyone had to play fixed positions, on the base or straight away in the outfield. Today, the teams faithfully recreate the games of yesteryear.
“For me, I play for fun. It’s like family. We support each other during the game and outside of the game,” Gary said. “It’s nice to be able to play a game that you love and not be a superstar. Just do what you can do and contribute.”
Baseball is a perfect tie-in to Naper Settlement’s theme, “Celebrating the American Spirit” that also includes free ice cream sundaes during Settlement Sundays on July 8 and from July 22 through Aug. 26. The museum is located at 523 S. Webster St. in Naperville. Admission is $12 adults, $10 seniors and $8 for youth 4-12. Naperville residents, children 3 and under and members are free.