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Published: Monday, 5/3/2010

Old-time ball team reaches own milestone


But when judge Bruce Wharram, standing more than 100 feet away, ruled Mr. Bradford to be safe, that ended the discussion.

"That's instant replay, 1860s style," quipped Mike McMaster, the Wood County Infirmary Inmates' superintendent, after watching the play from the sidelines.

"The judge said I was safe, and his rule is law," said Mr. Bradford, reflecting a key difference between Civil War-era base ball and its modern counterpart 150 years later: There is no arguing.

The game practiced by the Sylvania-based Frogs, who yesterday started their 20th season playing "vintage" base ball, and the Inmates, now in their sixth season, was an amateur sport "played by respectable gentlemen" and required no equipment beyond bases and bats. Swearing, spitting, tobacco-chewing, consumption of alcohol, and wagering all were strictly prohibited.

Tyler "Junior" James said the old-time game's politeness was what attracted him to it, instead of to high-school baseball, when he became old enough to join the Frogs three seasons ago.

"The competition kind of ruins it for me," said Mr. James, of Sylvania, who at age 18 is his team's youngest player - younger, actually, than the team itself - and one of several second-generation Frogs. "This is a friendly game. Win or lose, you go home happy."

"Everybody just likes playing base ball," said Read "Steamboat" Backus, who, with 19 years as a Frog, is one of the team's veterans. "Of course, it's a different kind of base ball. You get to be with friends, and you make all kinds of friends."

Read 'Steamboat' Backus, left, talks with Bruce Wharram, the judge (a position now called umpire). Mr. Backus has been on the Frogs team 19 years. 'It's a different kind of base ball,' he says. 'You get to be with friends, and you make friends.' Read 'Steamboat' Backus, left, talks with Bruce Wharram, the judge (a position now called umpire). Mr. Backus has been on the Frogs team 19 years. 'It's a different kind of base ball,' he says. 'You get to be with friends, and you make friends.'

"We have such a good group of guys," agreed Jeremy "Professor" Potter, a team director from Ida, Mich. "We all enjoy playing the game together, and the historical part of the game."

The Frogs' game yesterday at Wildwood Metropark kicked off a 15 game-date 2010 season for the team, and with multiple games on some days, they expect to play between 20 and 22 games this year.

Although most of their games are in northwest Ohio, they also have road dates in Wyandotte, Rochester, and Royal Oak, Mich., Oneonta, N.Y., and Columbus, plus a home-and-home series with a team from Woodstock, Ont., Sylvania's sister city. They'll play in Woodstock on Canada Day, July 1, and then have a rematch at Wildwood on the Fourth of July.

The schedule also includes a June 26 "old timers" game at Veterans' Memorial Field in Sylvania against the Vintage Frogs, former team members who will retake the field to help mark the club's 20th anniversary. Only three original Frogs remain on the team, Mr. Backus said. They are Craig "Cat" Stough, Brad "Doc" James, and Boyd "Good Hands" Montgomery.

The Inmates, organized five years ago by Mr. McMaster as an adjunct to the Wood County Museum, have a much lighter schedule - just eight or nine games - but take the same approach to the game.

"This is a gentleman's game," said Shawn "Stretch" Bradford, of Weston, one of seven Bradford relatives on the Inmates. Although "it's nice to win," he said, the camaraderie is most important, and "we've got a lot of good guys on this team."

That perspective was important to the Inmates yesterday, because the Frogs swept their doubleheader, 7-1 and 5-0.

"I try to do educational programs for kids," said Mr. McMaster, the museum's educational coordinator and a former Toledo schoolteacher. "This is an educational program for adults, for the public, and the players themselves."

Sheila Painter of Sylvania came out to watch yesterday's games after reading about them.

"We thought it would be fun to watch it, and I don't even like baseball," Mrs. Painter said, describing the style of play as "quaint and creative."

"My favorite part is being able to shout 'huzzah.' There aren't too many places you can shout 'huzzah' these days."

Although the competition is relaxed, the games are punctuated by flashes of athleticism and they are not without hazards, especially given that fielders don't wear gloves to catch batted or thrown balls.

Mike Smith, a veteran Frog who occasionally fills in as judge - the old-time name for the umpire - shows off gnarled fingers from years of catching throws at first base, and Cyrus Sarosh, 20, of Ida, says a finger he broke catching a pop fly last season still bothers him.

"It's too fun to stop," Mr. Sarosh said to explain why he plays through the discomfort.

Contact David Patch at:


or 419-724-6094.

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