Wearing the uniform of his team, the Murphysboro Clarkes, Eric Rahlfs speaks to the Carmi Kiwanis Club about his involvement with vintage baseball. Rahlfs and the rest of the Clarkes’ “ballists” play “matches” against other vintage enthusiasts. Rahlfs, a member of the Carmi Kiwanis, spoke to his fellow club members at the noon meeting on Thursday, May 25.
Somewhere this weekend, in their own field of dreams, grown men and women will turn back the clock – no, the calendar! – and enjoy baseball as it was played at the dawn of the Civil War.
And one of those men could be Carmi’s Eric Rahlfs.
Rahlfs is a member of the Murphysboro Clarkes Vintage Base Ball Club, which was founded by Russ Wright in 2005. The Clarkes are a team which plays matches — that’s what they were called back then, not games — by 1860 rules. That means underhanded pitching, no gloves for fielding, no aluminum bats, a nickname for everyone and above all, no cursing or bad sportsmanship. In fact, one could incur a 25 cent fine (a day’s wage back in 1860) for letting loose a four-lettered word during competition.
Rahlfs, or “Spike” as he is known by his teammates, was the guest speaker at Thursday’s Carmi Kiwanis Club meeting. He moved from his hometown of Chester to Murphysboro in 2007 and joined the Clarkes a couple of years later at the request of a co-worker.
The team played a match in 2016 in Dyersville, Iowa at the “Field of Dreams,” the cornfield-bordered field featured in the 1989 Kevin Costner movie of the same name.
The Clarkes normally, though, play against teams from the St. Louis area. According to Rahlfs, the Clarkes are one of only two vintage baseball teams in Illinois south of I-64.
Rahlfs provided the Kiwanians with a comprehensive list of lingo from the vintage baseball era, along with each word’s modern-day counterpart.
For example, a game (modern day) is a match (vintage), fans are cranks, the umpire an arbiter, players are ballists, infielders are base tenders, a pitcher is a hurler, the catcher a behind, the shortstop a rover, outfielders are known as scouts, a batter is a striker, home plate is the dish, one hand down means one out, a homer is a four-baser, to run swiftly is to leg it, hooray is huzzah, to step to the plate is striker to the line and three outs is three men dead.
Rahlfs said there is no organized league, as there were none back in the latter half of the 19th century, just groups of men looking for pick-up games anywhere they could find a field large enough to play on.
Rahlfs, a member of the Carmi Kiwanis club, spoke to his fellow club members while proudly adorning his Clarkes uniform and was assisted in his presentation by his daughter, Addyson, and son, Luke.