Most can only dream of reliving a historical moment or era. The Bluegrass Barons, Lexington’s first vintage baseball team, have transformed that dream into reality.
The inspiration came when Ben “Pops” Clouse “fell in love” with vintage baseball while attending a game last May. Months later, Clouse and his son, Tom, were on hand for another vintage game when a shorthanded team from Rising Sun, Md., invited them to fill in.
The two are no strangers to baseball or softball. Ben Clouse has played softball for 32 years. When he filled in for the vintage baseball team, “all that did was solidify our love for it,” his son said.
Ben Clouse made it a goal to bring a vintage baseball team to Lexington, and only a season later, the Barons are set to debut in the Vintage Base Ball Association, a league emphasizing the nature and style of the game from the 1800s.
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According to its website, the mission of the league is to preserve, perpetuate and promote the game as it was played during its formative years in the 19th century and other historic eras. The organization was formed on Feb. 11, 1996, when delegates from 13 clubs gathered in Columbus, Ohio, to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the first recorded baseball match between organized teams.
I want to walk out there and just feel like I’m back in 1869. Just getting lost in the moment, only for a few hours; that’s what I look forward to most.
Jerry Sudduth of Frankfort
Teams play using vintage rules, and they wear period uniforms and use period authentic equipment — wooden bats and no gloves.
Ben Clouse gathered fellow softball teammates — there was no shortage of willing participants, he said — and preparation for the season has begun.
The chance to participate in America’s pastime with his family was reason enough to get the team together, Tom Clouse said. His dad was his T-ball coach, and the two would team up several years later, playing softball, after Tom turned 18.
Tom’s younger brother, Alex, is joining his brother and his dad in this adventure.
“It became a way for us to still hang out and still do something productive together,” Tom said.
For Jerry Sudduth, a Frankfort resident and an avid admirer of history and baseball alike, it was finding a perfect intersection of the two with the Barons.
“When I found out there was such a thing as vintage baseball, I said, ‘Well, that combines two of my loves, and I’d love to be able to be a part of this.’ It looks exciting,” Sudduth said.
Sudduth decided to start a team came after attending a game and being picked up by a shorthanded group. It was a game that Ben Clouse was watching. Sudduth couldn’t come up with a full roster in Frankfort, but his continued contact with Ben Clouse led to an opportunity to join the Barons.
“I want to walk out there and just feel like I’m back in 1869,” Sudduth said. “Just getting lost in the moment, only for a few hours; that’s what I look forward to most.”
That feeling is shared among most of the players who have a passion for the game and its history.
“It’s really emphasizing what they emphasized back then,” Sudduth said. “Winning was important, but being a gentleman, showing good moral fiber and showing good sportsmanship in success or failure; that’s what we want to emphasize on the field.”
In their first season, the Barons’ debut with a 17-game slate. Some more established teams — according to the vintage association, there are 400 teams in the country — play nearly 60 games a season.
The Barons’ season got underway April 17 in Indiana. Their first home game is April 23 at Waveland Museum.
“This is the roots of the game we watch on TV,” Tom Clouse said. “And seeing those roots is something that’s very interesting; chopping it down to where it began.”
And if he and his team have their way, the love of the vintage game will continue to grow in Central Kentucky.
“We’re trying to get a lot of other people involved, so maybe in a couple years, we’ll have three or four teams,” Clouse said.
If you go
Bluegrass Barons home games
When: 1 p.m., April 23, May 22, Sept. 24 and Oct. 8
Where: Waveland State Historic Site, 225 Waveland Museum Lane.
Cost: $5 for adults, $2 for children ages 6-12 and 5 and younger are free. Concessions will be available and guests can bring chairs to enjoy the game.