Base Ball then: The Audra baseball team, 1908
Base Ball now: The Buffalo Gap Chips
Vintage base ball (spelled with two words in 1883) is probably the best-known living history initiative of the Texas Frontier Heritage & Cultural Center™.
Exceptional local interest led to two teams being formed and actively playing every month at the Village between 2006 and 2008. By recreating the sights, sounds, and smells of an 1880s-era base ball game,
interpreters and volunteers showed how baseball has changed between
1883 and the present.
The ballists of of the Buffalo Gap Vintage Base Ball Club (BGVBBC) formed two teams, the Buffalo Gap Chips and the Abilene 407s. Although the modern rivalry was imagined, it had its roots in local history, harkening back to the days when Buffalo Gap and Abilene were engaged in a hot political debate over which community would be home to the Taylor County seat. The 1883 vote resulted in the county courthouse moving to Abilene, though don’t tell that to the Chips, as they believed that their town would remain the center of county life.
The Chips were composed of Taylor County’s rural set — farmers, ranchers,
and herdsmen from the southern half of the county. Leaving their
fields and ranches for the ball field, they waited in eager anticipation
to see whether or not the fall election would result in the end of their
community’s reign as the Taylor County Seat. Although Buffalo Gap
would ultimately lose that vote by a tally of 905 to 269, the Chips sought
to preserve the honor of their community by demonstrating their prowess
on the ball field.
Click here to watch a video
Their uniformed opponents, the Abilene 407s, represented the growing cosmopolitan
city to the north. They took their name from the Texas and Pacific
Railroad mile marker that established the location of the “future great”
community of West Texas. The presence of the railroad made Abilene
the more practical decision for the seat of county government. The
railroad workers, well-dressed townies, and more progressive-minded citizens
who suited up to play ball, were a far cry from the more conservative rural
hayseeds from the southern half of the county.
of the Chips in action —
compliments of Chips
member Than Dossman!
The base ball game played by the ballists of the Village
would be familiar to fans of modern baseball, though there are a number
of differences that set the more genteel 1883 version of sport apart from
today’s game. Spitting and cursing were against the rules, and the
single umpire who patrolled the entire field could levy fines against players
who violated the spirit of the game. Baseball gloves had been
invented, but they were not worn by “real men.” The ball was approximately
the same size, but it was a bit softer than a modern baseball. When
it came to actual play, the hurler (pitcher) could not raise his wrist
above the level of the shoulder in delivering the ball, and the striker
(batter) told him which strike zone to pitch to: High (from the waist
to the shoulders) or Low (from the waist to the knees). Far from
being the pitcher's duel of the present, the game was structured around getting
the ball into play and having the striker be put out while running the
The Chips and the 407s played in accordance with the National League Rules
of 1883, though they were familiar with earlier rules and played by them when
participating in tournaments and events at other sites. All cranks
and rooters were encouraged to attend. Prospective strikers would step
up to the line... The Village organization was also a member club of the Vintage Base Ball Association. In addition to matches with each other, it participated in regional matches with period-style base ball teams from other areas, achieving a string of striking victories between 2006 and 2008.
While the organized teams no longer exist as key players have moved out of the area, the Texas Frontier Heritage & Cultural Center™ keeps the tradition of 1880s base ball alive by staging a vintage base ball game every December on the grounds of the Historic Village.
Baseball afficionados seeking more information about vintage base ball rules, early baseball
in Texas, period baseball slang, and uniforms worn by the 407s and the
Chips will find it in the following files (available in PDF
Beadle’s 1860 Rules
Reach’s 1883 Rules
19th Century Base Ball Slang
Baseball in 1883